'£1bn extra' academy roll out costs
An extra £1 billion was spent by the Government in the last two years on turning schools into academies, the spending watchdog has said.
The National Audit Office (NAO) said the Department for Education (DfE) was "unprepared" for the financial impact of rapidly expanding the programme.
In a new report, the NAO said the department had initially failed to anticipate the scale of interest from schools who would want to take on academy status.
Academies are semi-independent state schools with freedom over areas such as the curriculum and staff pay and conditions. The first academies were set up under the last Labour government.
Soon after the 2010 general election, Education Secretary Michael Gove announced he was opening up the programme to allow all schools in England to apply for academy status. There are now around 2,309 open academies, compared with 203 in May 2010, and almost half of secondary-age children in England now attend one of these schools.
But a new NAO report concluded that while this expansion was a "significant achievement", the DfE was not ready for it. It found that between April 2010 and March 2012, the DfE had to find an estimated £1 billion of additional costs.
To stay within its overall spending limits, and still allow the expansion to continue at the same pace, the DfE found this money from its main schools settlement and other budgets.
"The department was unprepared for the financial implications of rapid expansion," the report said.
A DfE spokesman said that the NAO was right to acknowledge the "extraordinary success" of the academies programme. He said: "We make no apology for the fact that more schools than even we imagined have opted to convert, and no apology for spending money on a programme that is proven to drive up standards and make long-term school improvements.
"We want as many schools as possible to take advantage of the significant benefits that academy status brings - because it means more and more schools run by great heads and teachers, not local authority or Whitehall bureaucrats, and more and more children getting a first-class education."