#AcademiesInBrum: Exploring the world of academies in 2017 Britain

As part of our series into #AcadamiesInBrum, we’re looking at the real story behind academies. Just what is their history? What does the future of academies not just in Birmingham but throughout the country and do they even work?


Just what is an academy?

Academies are schools at their core. However, unlike state schools who respond to local authorities (such as Birmingham City Council), they get their funding directly from the government and the Secretary of State for education, Justine Greening MP.

You may also have heard the term ‘multi-academy trusts’ or MATs. These are effectively coined when a sponsor runs more than one academy.

How did academies start?

Started under the Blair Labour government, the Learning and Skills act 2000 was first introduced by David Blunkett (then Secretary of State for Education and Skills) who said that the policy would, “improve pupil performance and break the cycle of low expectations.”

Known as ‘city academies’ for the first two years, they were not called academies until 2002. Originally, sponsored academies needed a private sponsor or organisation. The thinking behind it was that would bring the best of the private-sector practice and innovative management and often, “a marked contrast to the lack of leadership experienced by the failing schools that academies had replaced.” They were originally required to contribute (up to £2m) 10% of the academy’s capital costs.

What are the main differences between state schools and academies?

There are three main differences:

Curriculum: As mentioned before, whilst they must follow a selection of core of subjects, they don’t have to include subjects such as PE, geography or history though many do.

Local authority role: Due to academies getting their funding directly from the government, there is often much less of a maintained role with the local authority.

Teachers: The major difference here is that you don’t need to have a QTS, qualified teacher status to teach in an academy, however, you may require one if it’s required in the funding agreement between the DoE and the academy. Equally, whereas teachers of mainstream schools are often employees of the local authority and not the school itself, teachers in academies are employed by the sponsor.

Who scrutinises them and hold them to account?

Currently, there are three different groups that are responsible for scrutinising academies.

Firstly, there is the Education Funding Agency (EFA) an executive agency that comes under the banner for the Department of Education. Secondly, there is Ofsted who acts the same way that they do for mainstream schools. Lastly, there is the RSC (Regional Schools Commissioners) who are Department for Education appointees who cover eight regions. In Birmingham, it’s currently Christine Quinn.

Do they have to follow the same curriculum as state schools?

Whilst academies are not legally required to follow the national curriculum that state schools follow, there are many restrictions meaning that effectively they must teach the same core subjects.

In primary school academies, for example, they must do SATs. At the secondary level, they must include the core subjects of English, Mathematics, Science and RE.

Following the announcement in March 2017, academies will be mandated to teach relationship and sex education.

Since 2010, the funding agreement between academies and the Department for Education have required the teaching of evolution over creationism. The official guideline is, The Academy Trust must not allow any view or theory to be taught as evidence-based if it is contrary to established scientific or historical evidence and explanations. This clause applies to all subjects taught at the Academy.”

Just how students are in academies?

At the time of publication, 65.5% of secondary and 19.5% of primary pupils were attending academies in England.

Do they have a different policy when it comes towards children with special educational needs and disabilities?

As a result of the Children and Families Act 2014, academies are now subject to most of the same responsibilities. These include:

+ Have regard to the statutory SEND code of practice.

+ Use their ‘best endeavours’ to make sure a child with   SEN gets the support they need.

+ Designate a qualified teacher to be the SEN Coordinator (SENCO)

+ Co-operate with the relevant local authority in respect of the child.

+ Admit a child where the school is named on that child’s Education, Health and Care Plan.

+ Ensure that children and their families are involved in decision-making and planning.

What are Academy sponsors?

The sponsors of academies are the management for the school. Their responsibilities include appointing both the leadership and teaching staff and ensuring that educational standards are met. Since 2010, sponsors no longer have to make a financial contribution when they wanted to establish an academy.

If your school is ranked as ‘outstanding’ and you wanted to convert to an academy you do not need to have a sponsor to convert. However, should your school be ‘low-performing’ you are expected to have a sponsor due to the expected drive, expertise, capacity and overall improvements that they could bring to the school.

Can companies connected to academies provide paid-for services to those schools?

Yes – Simply put, both academy sponsors, companies and individuals (for example, company directors) can provide contracted services to their school as long as it is provided at what is known as ‘at cost’ which comes into effect with transactions over a certain amount. Both goods and services also have to be procured both fairly and openly.

How does a school become an academy?

There are currently two ways a school can gain academy status. Firstly, there is voluntary and secondly, what can be described as ‘forced’ conversion. Voluntary conversion comes under the Academies Act 2010 and allows the governing body, should a resolution pass, to apply to convert the school into an academy.

‘Forced’ (when a school is made to convert) comes under the Education and Adoption Act 2016. Firstly the school must have been judged as by Ofsted. Following this, the Secretary of State for Education can make an academy order. This is commonly known as when a school is put in special measures. The Secretary of State for education can also make an academy order should a school be classified as coasting. That being, a school where data shows that, over a three-year period, the school is failing to ensure that pupils reach their potential. A school will only be coasting if performance data falls below the coasting bar in all three previous years.”

If you’re applying to be a single academy, that being a non-multi-academy trust you must have at least a good Ofsted rating, have a high (though undefined) attainment score and pupil progress must be high. You will also need to prove that your school is financially healthy and would be expected, should the school convert, to support at least 1 other local school.

A school must have a consultation period before it becomes an academy. This has to be with anyone who has an interest in the school, including staff and parents. It’s not required, but government advice is that it should also involve pupils and the wider community. A school can’t get a funding agreement without one.

Can a school return to local authority control?

No. Simply put, there is no ‘mechanism for an academy to return to local authority control’ and this comes from the government’s official document on academies. If an academy is deemed as either failing or under performing they can either be transferred to another MAT or sponsor or be subjected to intervention by the Regional Schools Commissioner.

There’s also no mechanism for a school to leave or transfer to another MAT (Multi-academy trust). You may be able to negotiate an exit or transfer, but there is no legal framework.

What does the future look like?

Back under the last Cameron government, a White Paper titled, Educational Excellence Everywhere was published setting out plans for every state maintained school to convert into an academy by 2022.

In May 2016, the government revised the plans but then later in October, under new Prime Minister Theresa May the plans were scrapped. The then newly appointed Education Secretary Justine Greening said in a Statement that while the Government’s ambition remained that all schools would have academy status, it would not introduce any wider education legislation in this parliamentary session. The focus would instead be on “building capacity in the system and encouraging schools to convert voluntarily.”

There is currently no official government position for the current Parliament.

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