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Academy (English school)

Mossbourne Community Academy, the successor to Hackney Downs School. (October 2005)

Academy schools are state-funded schools in England which are directly funded by the Department for Education and independent of local authority control.

Most academies are secondary schools, however some primary schools, as well as some of the remaining first, middle school and high schools, are also academies.

Academies are self-governing non-profit charitable trusts and may receive additional support from personal or corporate sponsors, either financially or in kind.[1] They must meet the same National Curriculum core subject requirements as other state schools and are subject to inspection by Ofsted.


  • Types of academy 1
  • Features of an academy 2
  • History 3
  • Support for the academies scheme 4
  • Criticism of and opposition to the academies scheme 5
  • Party policies, and developments since the end of the Labour Government 6
  • Comparisons 7
  • Operators of academies 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Types of academy

The following are all types of academy:[2]

  • Sponsored academy: A formerly maintained school that has been transformed to academy status as part of a government intervention strategy. They are consequently run by a Government-approved sponsor.[3] They are sometimes referred to as traditional academies.[4]
  • Converter academy: A formerly maintained school that has voluntarily converted to academy status. It is not necessary for a converter academy to have a sponsor.[5]
  • Free school: Free schools are new academies established since 2011 via the Free School Programme.[6] From May 2015, usage of the term was also extended to new academies set up via a Local Authority competition.[7] The majority of free schools are similar in size and shape to other types of academy. However, the following are distinctive sub-types of free school:[2]

An academy trust that operates more than one academy is known as an Academy Chain, although sometimes the terms Academy Group or Academy Federation are used instead. An Academy Chain is a group of schools working together under a shared academy structure that is either an Umbrella Trust or a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT).[10] [11]

An academy with an official faith designation is sometimes referred to as a Faith Academy.[12][13]

Features of an academy

All academies are expected to follow a broad and balanced curriculum but many have a particular focus on, or formal specialism in, one or more areas, such as science; arts; business and enterprise; computing; engineering; mathematics; modern foreign languages; performing arts; sport; or technology. Although academies are required to follow the National Curriculum in the core subjects of maths, English and science,[14] they are otherwise free to innovate, although they still participate in the same Key Stage 3 and GCSE exams as other English schools (which effectively means they teach a curriculum very similar to maintained schools, with small variations).

Like other state funded schools, academies are required to adhere to the National Admissions Code.[15]

In terms of their governance, academies are established as companies limited by guarantee with a Board of Directors that acts as a Trust. The Academy Trust has exempt charity status, regulated by the Department for Education.[1] The trustees are legally, but not financially, accountable for the operation of the academy. The Trust serves as the legal entity of which the school is part. The trustees oversee the running of the school, sometimes delegating responsibility to a local governing body which they appoint. The day-to-day management of the school is, as in most schools, conducted by the Head Teacher and their senior management team.

In Sponsored Academies, the sponsor is able to influence the process of establishing the school, including its curriculum, ethos, specialism and building (if a new one is built). The sponsor also has the power to appoint governors to the academy's governing body.


The Labour Government under Tony Blair established academies through the Learning and Skills Act 2000,[16] which amended the section of the Education Act 1996 relating to City Technology Colleges.[17] They were first announced in a speech by David Blunkett, then Secretary of State for Education and Skills, in 2000.[18][19][20] He said that their aim was "to improve pupil performance and break the cycle of low expectations."

The chief architect of the policy was Andrew Adonis (now Lord Adonis, formerly Secretary of State at the Department for Transport) in his capacity as education advisor to the Prime Minister in the late 1990s.[21]

Academies were known as City Academies for the first few years, but the term was changed to Academies by an amendment in the Education Act 2002.[22] The term Sponsored Academies was applied retrospectively to this type of academy, to distinguish it from other types of academy that were enabled later.

Sponsored Academies originally needed a private sponsor who could be an individual (such as United Learning Trust or Amey plc). These sponsors were expected to bring "the best of private-sector best practice and innovative management" to academies, "often in marked contrast to the lack of leadership experienced by the failing schools that academies have replaced" (known as predecessor schools).[23] They were originally required to contribute 10% of the academy's capital costs (up to a maximum of £2m). The remainder of the capital and running costs were met by the state in the usual way for UK state schools through grants funded by the local authority.

The Government later removed the requirement for financial investment by a private sponsor in a move to encourage successful existing schools and charities to become sponsors.

Sponsored Academies typically replaced one or more existing schools, but some were newly established. They were intended to address the problem of entrenched failure within English schools with low academic achievement, or schools situated in communities with low academic aspirations. Often these schools had been placed in "special measures" after an Ofsted inspection. They were expected to be creative and innovative because of their financial and academic freedoms, in order to deal with the long-term issues they were intended to solve.[24]

Originally all Sponsored Academies had to have a curriculum specialism within the English Specialist Schools Programme (SSP).[25] However, this requirement was removed in 2010.[26]

By May 2010 there were 203 Sponsored Academies in England.[27]

The Academies Act 2010 sought to increase the number of academies. It enabled all maintained schools to convert to academy status, known as Converter Academies and enabled new academies to be created via the Free School Programme.

At the same time the new Conservative-led Coalition Government announced that they would redirect funding for school Specialisms [i.e. Technology College Status] into mainstream funding.[28] This meant that Secondary Schools would no longer directly receive ring-fenced funds of c£130K from Government for each of their specialisms.[29] One way to regain some direct control over their finances was to become a Converter Academy and receive all of their funding direct from Government, with the possibility of buying in services at a cheaper rate.[30] This, along with some schools wanting more independence from local authority control, meant that many state secondary schools in England converted to academy status in subsequent years.[31]

By April 2011, the number of academies had increased to 629, and by August 2011, reached 1070.[32] By July 2012 this number reached 1957, double that of the previous year.[33] and, at 1 November 2013, it stood at 3,444.[33] It is the policy of the Department for Education that all schools should become academies or free schools.[34]

There are no academies in Wales, where education policy is devolved to the Welsh Assembly. To date [2013], the Welsh Government has followed a policy of having no academy-status schools in the country.

Support for the academies scheme

Whilst still in the fairly early stage of development, supporters pointed to emerging data showing "striking"[35] improvements in GCSE results for academies compared to their predecessors,[36] with early results showing that "GCSE results are improving twice as fast in academies as in state schools".[21]

In an article in The Observer, that regarded many of the Government's claims for academies with scepticism, journalist Geraldine Bedell conceded that:

They seem, so far, to be working – not all as spectacularly as Mossbourne, but much better than most of the struggling inner-city schools they replaced.[14]

The article singles out the cited academy, Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, as "apparently the most popular [school] in Britain – at least with politicians" and "the top school in the country for value-added results".[14]

Criticism of and opposition to the academies scheme

The introduction of academy schools was opposed, notably by teachers' trade unions and some high-profile members within the Labour Party, such as former party leader Lord Kinnock.[37][38]

Academies have continued to be controversial,[39][14][40][41][42][43] and their existence has frequently been opposed and challenged by politicians,[43] commentators,[44] teachers, teachers' unions,[43][45] and parents.[39] Even after several years of operation and with a number of academies open and reporting successes,[14][45] the programme continues to come under attack for creating schools that are said to be, among other things, a waste of money,[46] selective,[47][48] damaging to the schools and communities around them,[14] forced on parents who do not want them,[39] and a move towards privatisation of education "by the back door".[47]

The House of Commons Education & Skills Select Committee reported in March 2005 that it would have been wiser to limit the programme to 30 or 50 academies in order to evaluate the results before expanding the programme, and that "the rapid expansion of the Academy policy comes at the expense of rigorous evaluation".[49] The Select Committee was concerned that the promising results achieved by some academies may be due to increased exclusions of harder-to-teach pupils. They noted that two Middlesbrough academies had expelled 61 pupils, compared to just 15 from all other secondary schools in the borough.[40]

The programme of creating academies has also been heavily criticised by some for handing schools to private sector entrepreneurs who in many cases have no experience of the education sector – most infamously, the Evangelical Christian car dealer, Sir

  • The DCSF Academies website
  • Specialist Schools official website
  • Anti Academies Alliance
  • In Defence of Academies by a pupil at Greig City Academy, 12 October 2006.
  • "Do academy schools really work?", Lisa Freedman, Prospect magazine, 24 February 2010.
  • Curtis, Andrew; Exley, Sonia; Sasia, Amanda; Tough, Sarah; Whitty, Geoff (December 2008). "The Academies programme: Progress, problems and possibilities" (PDF).  
  • Bolton, Paul (2010). Academies: Statistics (PDF) (Report). House of Commons Library. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 

External links

  1. ^ a b "Charities and charity trustees: an introduction for school governors". Charity Commission website. Charity Commission. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Types of academy". SSAT Website. Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  3. ^ "Academy sponsorship". Department for Education. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  4. ^ "Comparison of Different School Type" (PDF). NSN website. New Schools Network. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  5. ^ "Academy conversion process". Department for Education. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  6. ^ "Education Terms: Free Schools". DfE Website. Department for Education. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  7. ^ "The free school presumption" (PDF). Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  8. ^ a b "Types of school". Department for Education. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  9. ^ "UTC Colleges Overview". UTC Colleges. Baker Dearing Educational Trust. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  10. ^ "Academy Chains" (PDF). SSAT UK website. Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  11. ^ "Become an academy: information for schools". Department for Education. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  12. ^ Faith' academy faces criticism"'". BBC News website. BBC. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  13. ^ Ward, Victoria (15 Nov 2012). "Test case could dictate admissions policy in faith schools". Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Bedell, Geraldine (31 August 2008). "Children of the revolution". London:  
  15. ^ "School admissions code". Department for Education. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  16. ^ "Learning and Skills Act 2000 (c. 21)". 17 August 2011. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  17. ^ "Education Act 1996 (c. 56)". 17 August 2011. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  18. ^ Carvel, John (15 Mar 2000). "Blunkett plans network of city academies". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  19. ^ "Blessed be the school sponsor". Times Educational Supplement. 17 Mar 2000. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  20. ^ "EDUCATION | 'City academies' to tackle school failure". BBC News. 15 September 2000. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  21. ^ a b Garner, Richard (8 October 2008). "The Big Question: What are academy schools, and is their future under threat?". London:  
  22. ^ "Education Act 2002 (c. 32)". 17 August 2011. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  23. ^ "BSF — HOW TO SPONSOR AN ACADEMY OR A SPECIALIST SCHOOL. A GUIDE FOR SPONSORS". Parliamentary Year Book 2008. Blakes. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  24. ^ "Q&A: city academies". Channel 4 News website. Channel 4. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  25. ^ "Specialist Schools". The Standards Site.  
  26. ^ "Specialist schools programme: Michael Gove announces changes". Department for Education. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  27. ^ "Q&A: Academies and free schools". BBC News. 26 May 2010. 
  28. ^ "Specialist schools programme: Michael Gove announces changes". Department for Education. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  29. ^ Waugh, Paul (19 Oct 2010). "Michael Gove signals end for specialist schools". Evening Standard. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  30. ^ "Q&A: Academies". BBC News website. BBC. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  31. ^ "Huge increase in academies takes total to more than 2300", Dept. for Education Press Notice, Sept. 7 2012. (
  32. ^ "Open academies and academy projects in development – The Department for Education". 19 August 2011. Retrieved 29 August 2011. 
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  37. ^ Teachers' leader slams academy school plan, The Observer, 23 March 2008.
  38. ^ a b "Kinnock criticises city academies". BBC News. 18 April 2006. Retrieved 29 November 2009. 
  39. ^ a b c d  
  40. ^ a b c Parkinson, Justin (17 March 2005). "Education | Why the fuss over city academies?". BBC News. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  41. ^ Adams, Stephen (24 August 2008). "City academies: Lord Adonis announces plan to step up expansion plan". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  42. ^ Academies reverse years of failure in city schools – Times Online
  43. ^ a b c Rebecca Smithers, education editor (19 January 2006). "Half of city academies among worst-performing schools | Education". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  44. ^ a b Roy Hattersley, The Guardian, 6 June 2005, "And now, over to our sponsors"
  45. ^ a b Polly Curtis, The Guardian, 1 November 2004, "Academies 'gagging' teachers"
  46. ^ Rebecca Smithers, The Guardian, 31 August 2004, "Flagship schools attacked over costs"
  47. ^ a b Bob Roberts (28 July 2006). "Exclusive: Flushed Out". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  48. ^ "'"Education | Teachers 'oppose city academies. BBC News. 14 March 2005. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  49. ^ The Committee Office, House of Commons. "House of Commons – Education and Skills – Fifth Report". Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  50. ^ "Education | Faith groups back more academies". BBC News. 17 July 2004. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  51. ^ Gaby Hinsliff, political editor (8 August 2005). "City schools could be front for evangelists | UK news | The Observer". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  52. ^ "Root of All Evil? Part 2: The Virus of Faith" by Richard DawkinsChannel 4 –
  53. ^ Garner, Richard (12 April 2006). "Faith schools are 'at odds with reason', says chaplain – Education News, Education". The Independent (London). Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  54. ^ Smithers, Rebecca (28 May 2005). "New-style academy condemned as failure". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  55. ^ a b "Ofsted inspection report, Richard Rose Central Academy" (PDF). Retrieved 9/2/09. 
  56. ^ a b Press Association (7 March 2006). "Ofsted criticises London academy standards | Education". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  57. ^ "Richard Rose Central Academy: Press Release". Retrieved 9/2/09. 
  58. ^ Behr, Rafael. "How car dealers can run state schools". New Statesman. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  59. ^ Shepherd, Jessica (14 November 2011). "Academies pay £200k salaries". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 15 November 2011. Charities that run chains of academy schools are using public funds to pay senior staff six-figure salaries, with some on £240,000 or more. 
  60. ^ "Academy row school governors sacked by Michael Gove". BBC News. 15 March 2012. 
  61. ^ "Protesting Tottenham parents 'disgusted' with Downhills Primary School governors' removal". Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
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  63. ^ "Education | Parents back academies says Blair". BBC News. 12 September 2005. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  64. ^ Baker, Mike (19 May 2006). "Education | Blair's legacy for schools". BBC News. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  65. ^ a b Hélène Mulholland in Bournemouth (21 September 2004). "Lib Dems split over city academies | Politics". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  66. ^ Matthew Taylor, education correspondent (31 October 2005). "City academies accused of deserting poor | Politics". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  67. ^ "Doubts grow over city academies – Education News, Education". The Independent (London). 28 May 2005. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  68. ^ Polly Curtis, education editor (30 August 2008). "As 51 academy schools prepare for first day, GCSEs show work still to be done | Education". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  69. ^ Polly Curtis, education editor (16 July 2008). "Education: Expand academy model into primary sector, says thinktank | Education". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  70. ^ Angela Harrison (30 July 2010). "Michael Gove defends academy schools list". BBC. Archived from the original on 6 August 2010. Retrieved 7 August 2010. 
  71. ^ Shepherd, Jessica; Wintour, Patrick (29 July 2010). "Michael Gove's academy plan under fire as scale of demand emerges". The Guardian (London). Archived from the original on 1 August 2010. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 
  72. ^ Hannah Richardson (6 August 2010). "Rebuild plans for 75 schools scaled back". BBC. Archived from the original on 6 August 2010. Retrieved 7 August 2010. 
  73. ^ Jessica Shepherd (5 April 2012). "Academies to become a majority among state secondary schools". Manchester Guardian. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
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See also

The Department for Education publishes a full list of active academy sponsors.[75]

A number of private and charitable organisations run groups of academies. These major operators include ARK Schools, Academies Enterprise Trust, E-ACT (formerly Edutrust Academies Charitable Trust), Emmanuel Schools Foundation, Harris Federation, Learning Schools Trust, Oasis Trust, Ormiston Academies Trust, Priory Federation, Schools Partnership Trust and United Learning Trust.

Operators of academies

Academies have been compared to US charter schools,[74] which are publicly funded schools largely independent of state and federal control.

Academies differ from CTCs in several ways; most notably, academies cannot select more than 10% of pupils by ability, whereas CTCs can.

Currently, the Government is encouraging CTCs to convert to academies; several have already done so (for example, Djanogly CTC is now Djanogly City Academy).

The city academy programme was originally based on the programme of City Technology Colleges (CTCs) created by the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, which were also business-sponsored.


In 2010 the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats coalition government announced plans to expand the academy programme with the Academies Act 2010. In May 2010 the then Education secretary Michael Gove wrote to all state schools in England inviting them to opt out of Local Authority control and convert to Academy status. Gove also stated that some academies could be created in time for the new Academic year in September 2010.[70] By 23 July 2010, 153 schools in England had applied for academy status, lower than the prediction that more than 1,000 would do so.[71] In spite of the expanding Academy programme, in August 2010 Gove announced that 75 existing academy rebuild projects were likely to be scaled back.[72] Nevertheless, by September 2012, the majority of state secondary schools in England had become Academies.[73]

Academies are supported by all three main political parties,[68] with a further cross-party initiative to extend the programme into primary schools currently being considered.[69]

In 2005, Willis' successor, Ed Davey, argued that academies were creating a "two-tier education system"[66] and called for the academy programme to be halted until "a proper analysis can be done".[67]

… there [are] no plans to abolish either city academies or specialist schools if the Lib Dems came to power, though "they would be brought under local authority control".
— Phil Willis, [65]

In 2004, the Liberal Democrats were reported as being "split" on the issue and so decided that academies should not be mentioned in the party's education policy.[65] The position of Phil Willis, the education spokesman at the time, was summarised as:

I am more authentically Andrew Adonis than Andrew Adonis is
— David Willetts, [64]

The Conservative Party has supported the academy proposal from its inception but wants the scheme to go further.[63] This accord was reflected in a remark made by Conservative spokesman David Willetts in 2006:

Party policies, and developments since the end of the Labour Government

A parliamentary report in 2015, entitled "Free Schools and Academies", recommends that "In the meantime the Government should stop exaggerating the success of academies and be cautious about firm conclusions except where the evidence merits it. Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school". [62]

In 2012, the academy scheme was applied to primary schools. The government began transforming some schools that had been graded Satisfactory or lower by Ofsted into academies, in some cases removing existing governing bodies and Head Teachers. An example was Downhills Primary School in Haringey, where the Head resisted turning the school into an academy. Ofsted were called in to assess the school, and placed it in Special Measures. The head and the Governing Body were removed and replaced with a Government-appointed board. There was opposition from the school and parents.[60][61]

The original City Academy programme was attacked for its expense: it cost on average £25m[40] to build an academy under this scheme, much of which was taken up by the costs of new buildings. Critics contend that this is significantly more than it costs to build a new local authority school.[58] Some operators are paying senior staff six-figure salaries, partly funded by central government.[59]

The Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle, sponsored by Eddie Stobart owner Andrew Tinkler, and local businessman Brian Scowcroft opened in September 2008. By January 2009, there were protests by parents and pupils regarding poor quality education and school facilities. The school was found to be failing[55] and was placed in special measures, with the headmaster and chief executive being immediately replaced.[57]

There are indications that several city academies are failing.[44] Ofsted has placed the Unity City Academy[54] in Middlesbrough and the Richard Rose Central Academy[55] in Carlisle under special measures, heavily criticised the West London Academy[56] in Ealing and condemned standards at the Business Academy in Bexley, Kent.[56]

Former leader of the Labour Party Neil Kinnock has criticised the academies scheme saying that they were a "distortion of choice" because they allowed schools to choose pupils, not parents to choose schools. He said they risked creating a "seller's market" with "schools selecting parents and children instead of parents selecting schools".[38]


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