Academy (English school): Wikis


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

An academy in the education system in England is a school that is directly funded by central government (the Department for Children, Schools and Families) and is independent of local government control. An academy may receive additional support from personal or corporate sponsors, either financially or in kind. They must meet the National Curriculum core subject requirements and are subject to inspection by Ofsted. Academies are self-governing and most are constituted as registered charities or operated by other educational charities. Most are secondary schools but some cater for children from nursery age upwards.

All academies have a curriculum specialism within the English Specialist Schools Programme (SSP).[1]

The former Labour prime minister, Tony Blair, established academies in 2000. The introduction of academy schools was not without opposition, notably from trades unions and many within the Labour Party, such as former party leader Lord Kinnock.[2][3]


What is an academy?

An academy in the education system in England is a type of secondary school which is independent of Local Education Authority control but is publicly funded, with some private sponsorship. It is roughly equivalent to the American charter school.[4] This type of school was initiated in 2000 and known as a city academy for the first few years, but the term was changed to "academy" by an amendment in the Education Act 2002.[5]

City academies were legally created by the Learning and Skills Act 2000,[6] which amended the section of the Education Act 1996 relating to City Technology Colleges.[7] They were first announced in a speech by David Blunkett, then Secretary of State for Education and Skills, in 2000.[8] The chief architect of the policy was Andrew Adonis (now Lord Adonis, Secretary of State at the Department for Transport) in his capacity as education advisor to the Prime Minister in the late 1990s.[9]

Academies are intended to address the problem of entrenched failure within English schools with low academic achievement,[10] or schools situated in communities with little or no academic aspirations. Often these schools have been placed in "special measures", a term denoting a school that is "failing or likely to fail to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education".[11]

In the Department for Education and Skills' Five Year Strategy (published in 2004), the Government committed to having 200 academies open or in development by 2010.[12]

Features of an academy

Academies are established in a way that is intended to be "creative" and "innovative" in order to give them the freedoms considered necessary to deal with the long-term issues they are intended to solve. Each academy has a private sponsor who can be an individual (such as Sir David Garrard, who sponsors Business Academy Bexley) or an organisation (such as the United Learning Trust or Amey plc). These sponsors are intended to bring "qualities of success" to academies, again to help them change the long-term trend of failure in the schools they replace (known as predecessor schools).

In return for an investment of 10% of the academy's capital costs (or £2m, whichever is lower), the sponsor is able to influence the process of establishing the school, including its curriculum, ethos, specialism and building (if a new one is being built). The DCSF has recently become more flexible about the requirement for this financial investment in a move to encourage successful existing schools and charities to become sponsors. The sponsor also has the power to appoint governors to the academy's governing body. Academies typically replace one or more existing schools, although some are newly established. The remainder of the capital and running costs are met by the state in the usual way for UK state schools - through grants funded by the local authority.

Academies are expected to follow a broad and balanced curriculum, but with a particular focus on one or more areas. Current specialisms include: science; arts; business and enterprise; computing; engineering; maths and computing; modern foreign languages; performing arts; sport; and technology.[13] Academies can select up to 10% of pupils by aptitude for the school's specialism in a way similar to specialist schools. 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).

In terms of their governance, academies are established as companies limited by guarantee with a governing body that acts as a Trust. The governors also act as the Trust's Board of Directors (they are legally, but not financially, accountable for the operation of the academy). The Trust serves as the legal entity which the school is part of, and the governing body oversees the running of the school (although the day to day management of the school is, as in most schools, conducted by the principal and their senior management team, who are appointed by the sponsor).

Support for the academies scheme

Whilst still in the fairly early stage of development (although there are over a hundred[14] academies, only a handful have been open for more than four years), supporters point to emerging data showing "striking"[15] improvements in GCSE results for academies compared to their predecessors,[10] with early results showing that "GCSE results are improving twice as fast in academies as in state schools".[9]

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

Academies are considered to be controversial,[14][16][17][18][19] and their existence has frequently been opposed and challenged by politicians,[19] commentators,[20] teachers and teachers' unions,[19][21] and parents.[11] Even after several years of operation and with a number of academies open and reporting successes,[14][21] the programme continues to come under attack for creating schools that are, inter alia, a waste of money,[22] selective,[23][24] damaging to the schools and communities around them,[14] forced on parents who do not want them,[11] and a move towards privatisation of education "by the back door".[23]

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".[25] 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.[16]

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 famously, the Evangelical Christian car dealer, Sir Peter Vardy, who has been accused of promoting the teaching of creationism alongside macroevolution in his Emmanuel Schools Foundation academies.[11][14] This is also linked to the wider debate in the education sector as to the benefits or otherwise of the growing role of religion in the school system being promoted by the New Labour government in general, and Tony Blair in particular, with many[26][27] academies (one estimate puts it at "more than half"[28]) being sponsored either by religious groups or organisations/individuals with a religious affiliation.[29]

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".[30]

There are indications that several city academies are failing.[20] Ofsted has placed the Unity Academy[31] in Middlesbrough and the Richard Rose Central Academy[32] in Carlisle under special measures, heavily criticised the West London Academy[33] in Ealing and condemned standards at the Business academy in Bexley, Kent, which is now earmarked for closure.[33]

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[32] and was placed in special measures, with the headmaster and chief executive being immediately replaced.[34]

The programme has further been attacked for its expense: typically it costs on average £25m[16] to build an academy, much of which is 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.[35]

Party policies

The Conservative Party has supported the academy proposal from its inception, only adding the caveat that the scheme should go further.[36] This accord was reflected in a remark made by Conservative spokesman David Willetts in 2006:

I am more authentically Andrew Adonis than Andrew Adonis is.[37]

In 2004, the Liberal Democrats were reported as being "split" on the issue, ruling that academies should not be mentioned in the party's education policy.[38] The position of Phil Willis, the education spokesman at the time, was summarised as:

… 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".[38]

In 2005, Willis' successor, Ed Davey, argued that academies were creating a "two-tier education system"[39] and called for the academy programme to be halted until "a proper analysis can be done".[40]

As of 2008, academies are supported by all three main political parties,[41] with a further cross-party initiative to extend the programme into primary schools currently being considered.[42]


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.

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

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

Academies have been compared to US charter schools.[4]

Operators of academies

A number of private organizations run groups of academies. These major operators include ARK (Absolute Return for Kids), Edutrust Academies Charitable Trust (EACT), Emmanuel Schools Foundation, Harris Federation, Oasis Trust, Priory Federation and United Learning Trust.

See also


  1. ^ "Specialist Schools". The Standards Site. Department for Children, Schools and Families. Retrieved 2008-12-15. 
  2. ^ Teachers' leader slams academy school plan, The Observer, 23 March 2008.
  3. ^ "Kinnock criticises city academies". BBC News. 2006-04-18. Retrieved 2009-11-29. 
  4. ^ a b Rebecca Smithers, The Guardian, July 6, 2005, "Hedge fund charity plans city academies"
  5. ^ Education Act 2002 (c. 32)
  6. ^ Learning and Skills Act 2000 (c. 21)
  7. ^ Education Act 1996 (c. 56)
  8. ^ BBC News | EDUCATION | 'City academies' to tackle school failure
  9. ^ a b Garner, Richard (2008-10-08). "The Big Question: What are academy schools, and is their future under threat?". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-12-31. 
  10. ^ a b Smith, Jacqui (2005-11-15), "This is a comprehensive success story", The Guardian,, retrieved 2009-12-31 
  11. ^ a b c d Harris, John (2005-01-15), "What a creation ...", The Guardian,, retrieved 2009-12-31 
  12. ^ How new school backers hit the golden route to a gong, The Times.
  13. ^ The Standards Site: Curriculum and Assessment
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Bedell, Geraldine (2008-08-31). "Children of the revolution". The Observer. Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  15. ^ Adonis, Andrew (2009-12-31). "Academies are a success story". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-09-03. 
  16. ^ a b c BBC NEWS | Education | Why the fuss over city academies?
  17. ^ City academies: Lord Adonis announces plan to step up expansion plan - Telegraph
  18. ^ Academies reverse years of failure in city schools - Times Online
  19. ^ a b c Half of city academies among worst-performing schools | Education |
  20. ^ a b Roy Hattersley, The Guardian, 6 June 2005, "And now, over to our sponsors"
  21. ^ a b Polly Curtis, The Guardian, 1 November 2004, "Academies 'gagging' teachers"
  22. ^ Rebecca Smithers, The Guardian, 31 August 2004, "Flagship schools attacked over costs"
  24. ^ BBC NEWS | Education | Teachers 'oppose city academies'
  25. ^ House of Commons - Education and Skills - Fifth Report
  26. ^ BBC NEWS | Education | Faith groups back more academies
  27. ^ City schools could be front for evangelists | UK news | The Observer
  28. ^ "Root of All Evil? Part 2: The Virus of Faith" by Richard Dawkins - Channel 4 -
  29. ^ Faith schools are 'at odds with reason', says chaplain - Education News, Education - The Independent
  30. ^ "Kinnock criticises city academies". BBC News. 2006-04-18. Retrieved 2009-11-29. 
  31. ^ "New-style academy condemned as failure". The Guardian.,11032,1494519,00.html. 
  32. ^ a b "Ofsted inspection report, Richard Rose Central Academy". Retrieved 9/2/09. 
  33. ^ a b Ofsted criticises London academy standards | Education |
  34. ^ "Richard Rose Central Academy: Press Release". Retrieved 9/2/09. 
  35. ^ New Statesman - How car dealers can run state schools
  36. ^ BBC NEWS | Education | Parents back academies says Blair
  37. ^ BBC NEWS | Education | Blair's legacy for schools
  38. ^ a b Lib Dems split over city academies | Politics |
  39. ^ City academies accused of deserting poor | Politics | The Guardian
  40. ^ Doubts grow over city academies - Education News, Education - The Independent
  41. ^ As 51 academy schools prepare for first day, GCSEs show work still to be done | Education | The Guardian
  42. ^ Education: Expand academy model into primary sector, says thinktank | Education | The Guardian

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