Academies and Multi Academy Trusts are funded directly from central government through the Department for Education. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the mechanisms associated with capital funding targeted at the maintenance and development of school buildings, not for teaching and learning.
The Department for Education allocates funding each year to help maintain and improve the condition of school buildings and grounds through eligible bodies which includes single academies and multi academy trusts. Funding falls into the following categories:
- School condition allocations (SCA), with funds paid to eligible bodies responsible for maintaining school buildings
- The condition improvement fund (CIF), a bidding round with funds paid directly to single academy trusts, small multi academy trusts (MATs), small voluntary aided (VA) bodies and sixth form colleges
- Devolved formula capital (DFC) is allocated for individual schools and other eligible institutions to spend on capital projects that meet their own priorities
- Salix Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme
Specific eligibility criteria (highlighted below) exists to dictate whether academies and MATs receive a direct SCA allocation or have to bid for CIF funds:
- the trust must have had 5 or more open schools at the start of September
- those open schools (or their predecessor schools) must have had at least 3,000 pupils
Acknowledging that alternative-provision schools (including pupil referral units) have lower pupil numbers, the DfE now multiply the pupil count by 4.5 for the purposes of SCA eligibility whilst the requirement to have 5 or more open schools remains.
Devolved Formula Capital must only be used for capital purposes such as funding new buildings and facilities, ICT equipment, capital repairs and refurbishment in accordance with priorities set by each school and in line with the asset management plan (AMP) for the school.
Both SCA and DFC funding are allocated on a formulaic basis and more detailed guidance can be found with ‘Condition funding: methodology for the financial year 2021–2022’.
(Department for Education, April 2021).
So what does this mean to your school? Most schools will be familiar with the use of DFC funds and how best to manage them however for Academies and smaller Trusts the notion of bidding for CIF funds may still be a new concept.
The development of a school asset management plan is vital to getting the best from your CIF bid strategy. Many schools do not have this in place and base their bids on short term thinking, however a robust asset management strategy enables the blending of other funding streams to support the wider development of the school buildings to under pin teaching and learning.
As schools grow and multi academy trusts are formed, the importance of an asset management plan increases, especially in the context of receiving direct SCA funding. Receiving direct SCA funds removes the unpredictability of CIF bidding, although introduces a number of other challenges in ensuring the effective use of limited funds, inclusive of:
- Conflicting priorities across a number of school sites
- Combating the ‘who shouts loudest phenomenon’ in each of the schools
- Ensuring need is prioritised
- Identifying the required skills for delivery of a capital programme
- Developing suitable delivery mechanisms, appointment of professionals and procurement
- Compliance with the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015
- Ensuring adequate governance and monitoring
- Effective use of other funding to support programme delivery, for example DFC
- The conflict between outsourcing/insourcing the design and delivery
Many growing trusts are wrestling with the dichotomy of if, when and what to insource to deliver their strategic estate’s needs. Understanding the quantum of capital funding is imperative to support the decision making. Schools are education specialists, therefore it is recommended that they seek specialist estates and project delivery support from a regulated firm (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors or Royal Institute of British Architects) to secure the very best outcomes that support teaching and learning.
(Primary Source: Gov.uk School Capital Funding. 2021)