The hefty bill for turning failing schools into academies has cost taxpayers £745 million, it has been revealed.

That works out at an average of £106,000 for each school, says the National Audit Office (NAO).

They report that more than 35,000 children are being taught in underperforming schools that a year ago were rated as inadequate and have not yet been converted into academies.

However, the NAO says that in England nearly 7,000 schools have been converted into academies but there’s a warning that there are growing issues including the lack of willing sponsors to help take responsibility for the running of converted schools.

Shortage of sponsors and multi-academy trusts

Indeed, the report makes clear that there is considerable variation over the availability of sponsors in different areas of England and states: “There appears to be a shortage of sponsors and multi-academy trusts that have the capacity for supporting a new academy.”

This situation for converting the 7,000 schools into academies has cost, since 2010/11, the Department for Education £745 million.

The National Audit Office also says that there’s no clear understanding whether it is feasible for the government to commit to its plan to convert schools into academies which will become establishments that are no longer under local authority control.

Their report highlights that in a lot of cases it takes longer for the turnaround of an underperforming school into a successful academy than is expected.

However, the Department for Education says the process in place for converting a school into an academy has been improved.

Process for the conversion of schools into academies

A DfE spokeswoman added: “We have improved the process for the conversion of schools into academies and increased standards of governance that we expect from multi-academy trusts.”

The DfE points out that they are investing more than £30 million in academy trusts in those areas that are facing challenges and using the money to improve other schools.

There is also more regular reporting and monitoring of the conversion process.

In their report, NAO says that schools that have seen Ofsted rate them as inadequate are made to become an academy with the timescale of this taking place supposed to be nine months.

From their research, the report makes clear that nearly two out of three schools that are destined to be academies take much longer to do so.

‘Taught in maintained schools that Ofsted rated as inadequate’

The report states: “We estimate that approximately 37,000 children, at January 2018, were being taught in maintained schools that Ofsted rated as inadequate nine months previously.”

The report’s writer, NAO head Amyas Morse, added: “It’s unclear how feasible it is for the Department for Education to continue converting schools to academies. There is variation around the country which leaves many local authorities with responsibility for primary schools largely.

“The Department needs to set out a vision and clarify how it sees academies, local authorities and maintained schools working together to create an effective and coherent school system for children in all parts of England.”

The Association of School and College Leaders’ general secretary, Geoff Barton, said: “The NAO’s report highlights a critical issue.

“Struggling schools are left in limbo because the government says they have to be an academy but they can’t find an academy sponsor for them. We call on ministers to rethink this approach for schools deemed to be underperforming.”