A major investigation into the comparative costs of the two parallel schools systems in England, and those of other countries, has found that academies and multi-academy trusts on the one hand, and local authority managed schools on the other, have hugely disparate costs with the former far exceeding the latter.
It also found that while small trusts didn’t deliver value for money in comparison with local authority managed schools, economies of scale for larger MATs also failed to materialise and the costs per pupil for administration often actually get worse.
The study, Understanding the Middle Tier: Comparative Costs of Academy and LA-maintained Systems, found a ‘complex and confusing’ picture that reinforces the Public Accounts Committee judgement1 that ‘The Department’s arrangements for oversight of schools are fragmented and incoherent, leading to inefficiency for government and confusion for schools.’
The researchers found that the ‘middle tier’ oversight functions for academies cost 44% more than for LA-maintained schools. In 2016/17 (latest available data), the overall cost of the middle tier for the academy system was £687.4m or £167.05 per pupil, compared to £524.4m or £115.71 per pupil for the LA system.
The difference can largely be explained by extra grants provided to multi-academy trusts (MATs) for functions previously undertaken by LAs. The top-slicing of academy budgets by MATs further increases the available funding for senior leadership posts to undertake middle tier functions.
But large MATs (11+ academies) did not demonstrate the economies of scale that might be expected: academies belonging to these large trusts had the highest cost per pupil.
In contrast to England’s fragmented picture, the four leading international education systems explored had a strong unitary middle tier and much lower administrative pupil costs than those in the English academy system.
The research was undertaken by Sara Bubb Associates and the investigators were Sara Bubb, Johnathan Crossley Holland, Julie Cordiner, Dr. Susan Cousin and Professor Peter Early.