What is an academy?
Katie Shimmon, The Guardian
What is an academy?
Academies are state-maintained but independently-run schools in England set up with the help of outside sponsors. They have more freedoms than schools under local authority control. The brainchild of former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, academies were established in 2000 to drive up standards by replacing failing schools in struggling local authorities. Originally called city academies, the Labour government dropped the word "city" to allow for academies in struggling rural areas as well as inner cities. Michael Gove, the new education secretary, hopes academies become "the norm" and is urging all schools in the country to apply for academy status, including primaries for the first time. Those rated outstanding by Ofsted will automatically be eligible to become academies by September. If all the schools judged outstanding turn into academies, there will be more than 2,000 of them.
How do they differ from mainstream schools?
Academies have more independence over what they teach, they can choose to award bonuses to their staff and pay headteachers £30,000 more than in other schools. They are not under local authority control and so arguably are subject to less bureaucracy and have more freedom over their budgets. They can change the length of the school term and day.
How are they funded?
Sponsors of the first academies contributed up to £2m towards the costs of the new or refurbished school buildings, and the government provided the rest of the funding. Since then, the Building Schools for the Future programme has taken over, and academy buildings have been acquired through Partnerships for Schools and local authorities, with sponsorship providing other income unconnected to building work.
Under the Lib-Cons plans announced today, outstanding schools that become academies will not need to be sponsored by outside organisations. This represents a major change in the funding system.
How many academies are there?
At present, out of the 24,000 schools in England, 202 are academies. Labour planned for 400.
Who are some of the sponsors of the academies?
The biggest academy sponsor in England is the United Learning Trust, which runs 17 schools. Lord Harris of Peckham, the millionaire chair of Carpetright, supports eight south London city academies, Wellington academy in Wiltshire is sponsored by Wellington College, Peter Jones of Dragons’ Den sponsors an enterprise academy, and Microsoft sponsors IT academies. Early academies were set up by Sir Peter Vardy, a Christian philanthropist who was accused of advocating the teaching of creationism in science in the schools, and Graham Able, the head of the prestigious Dulwich college in London.
Are academies raising standards?
2008 figures showed that academies were improving at a faster rate than the average state school, although one in four academies with GCSE students saw their results fall. A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2007 also found attainment in academies was improving at a faster rate than comparable schools and the national average, and pupils were doing better overall at key stage 3, GCSE and post-16 levels. But MPs on the Commons public accounts committee said it was impossible to tell whether the success of academies was from the extra cash and enthusiastic teachers, or from the freedom given to them, and warned it may not last.
What do people think of them?
They are a controversial feature of the education landscape. In 2007, protesters camped out in Wembley to prevent an academy being built there and UCL’s bid to run an academy in Camden has proved unpopular with locals. And in March this year, parents protested against plans to replace two schools with an academy in Manchester. Teaching unions are opposed to academies and want to see them returned to the control of local authorities. While the Tories have always been keen advocates of expanding academy schools, the Liberal Democrats wanted to keep schools within local authorities.