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More than £1m spent on conversion costs for academies in Norfolk

Pupils in a primary school lesson. Picture: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

Pupils in a primary school lesson. Picture: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

More than £1m has been spent on administration and legal costs linked with academy conversions over the last four years.

Schools paid out just over £514,000 in conversion costs from 2013 up to January this year, while Norfolk County Council has spent another £555,000 - bringing the total to just shy of £1.1m.

The council estimates the cost of conversion is £5,000 for legal, administration and staffing work and does not charge for costs that come under its statutory responsibility, but does recoup money from schools for additional, “added value”, services.

The figures, revealed under a Freedom of Information Request, relate to the conversion of 111 schools.

A spokesperson for the council said the fees recovered were “fair and commensurate” with the work needed.

“We undertake a large amount of the work for the converting school, rather than just leaving the school to carry out the process without support, as we believe this works better for our schools,” they said.

The figures reveal that Weasenham Primary Academy, in west Norfolk, was charged £3,227 - the lowest sum - in 2013, but both Heartsease Primary Academy and Taverham High School were charged £17,150 because they are private finance initiative (PFI) schools.

Fakenham Academy Norfolk was also charged £8,500.

The council said the higher sums were not the norm, with some schools having “particularly complex land and property arrangements”, resulting in extra legal work.

They said the fee recovery strategy was introduced with the agreement of both elected members and the Norfolk Schools Forum after growing numbers of academy conversions became a “considerable drain” on the council’s “finite resources”.

The approach varies around the country - some councils apply a similar policy, while others do not yet charge at all.

A cap is in place which, Norfolk said, would not been exceeded except in “exceptional circumstances” and with agreement of the school governors.

• Do you have an education story for us? Let us know by emailing lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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