THE Government’s drive to transform the nation’s network of schools has been awarded an A star rating by some, branded a failure by others while many stakeholders in the academies scheme have been told they ‘must try harder’.
For one accountancy firm, however, the coalition’s Big Society push to give hundreds of schools the freedom of academy status has helped it maintain its impressive track record of registering growth in all but one of its 28 years in business.
Clive Owen, which operates across the North East and Yorkshire, employing 85 people, has picked up business from 15 recently-created academies in the last 12 months – with several more expected to come on board in the coming months.
As well as acting as a catalyst for further growth for the practice, the surge in business has given the company a new area of expertise.
Company founder Clive Owen said: “What’s different about working with schools is that they aren’t used to being looked at by an outside body in the private sector.
“State schools used to come under the auspices of county councils so generally you had a county council’s education department and they had a been involved in purchasing and all sorts of aspects of running a school.
“But now they are out of the picture and the school has to look after themselves, so for them, it’s a totally new world.
“There is no friction between us. We’re going in and helping people and trying to ensure that the school gets the best out of the new system.”
According to the latest figures, the number of academy schools in England trebled in the year to April 2011, with 629 academies open at the time the report was published in spring this year.
Clive Owen’s ambitions in the education sector may, however, be hindered by the fact that schools in the North East are reportedly the least likely to convert to academies compared to other English regions. There are currently around 40 academies in the accountancy firm’s North East heartland but growth in the conversion rate remains lower than in other areas.
“We cover the North East and Yorkshire as far down as Hull. The problem is we don’t know how many schools will convert. You tend to get some authorities where no one converts, in others you get four or five and it tends to gain momentum.
“We’ve got good experience in the education sector and at the busy time of the year we could have as many as 10 people working on it.”
“It’s quite helpful for us when a lot come on the market together as it does allow you to get an expertise, a specialisation. Therefore it works well for us and the clients. There are special rules on VAT for schools and they just get the value so instead of them learning all the wrinkles, you get to do it.”
Driven in part by the spike in schools-related business, Clive Owen is this year expects to enjoy 10 to 15% growth in turnover. And, the firm may even look to expand its physical presence across the UK.“We are actually in negotiations to move into another area but I daren’t say where that is. There are more players in the market on Tyneside than Teesside but our Durham office has done very well and expanded significantly every year for six or seven years now. We’ve got 85 members of staff but that is likely to increase this year.”