- Academy (English school)
In the education system of England, an academy is a school that is directly funded by central government (specifically, the Department for Education) and independent of control by local government in England. 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, i.e. for pupils aged 11 to 16, but some cater for children from nursery age upwards, i.e. for children aged 4 and upwards. All academies have a curriculum specialism within the English Specialist Schools Programme (SSP).
The Blair ministry established academies in 2000. In May 2010 there were 203 academies in England. The Academies Act 2010 sought to expand the number of academies and additionally extended academies with the introduction of the Free Schools Programme. By April 2011, the number of academies had increased to 629, and by August 2011, reached 1070.
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. There are no academies in Wales as education there is controlled by the Welsh Government which has showed no inclination to adopt the Academy model.
An academy in the education system in England is a type of 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. 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.
City academies were legally created by the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which amended the section of the Education Act 1996 relating to City Technology Colleges. They were first announced in a speech by David Blunkett, then Secretary of State for Education and Skills, in 2000. The chief architect of the policy was Andrew Adonis (now Lord Adonis, former Secretary of State at the Department for Transport) in his capacity as education advisor to the Prime Minister in the late 1990s.
Academies are intended to address the problem of entrenched failure within English schools with low academic achievement, 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".
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 (up to a maximum of £2m), 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 Department 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. 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, 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 academies, only a handful have been open for more than four years), supporters point to emerging data showing "striking" improvements in GCSE results for academies compared to their predecessors, with early results showing that "GCSE results are improving twice as fast in academies as in state schools".
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.
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".
Criticism of and opposition to the academies scheme
Academies are controversial, and their existence has frequently been opposed and challenged by politicians, commentators, teachers and teachers' unions, and parents. Even after several years of operation and with a number of academies open and reporting successes, the programme continues to come under attack for creating schools that are said to be, among other things, a waste of money, selective, damaging to the schools and communities around them, forced on parents who do not want them, and a move towards privatisation of education "by the back door".
The accusation that some academies select pupils (whether covertly or overtly) is particularly controversial because such selection is connected with the grammar school system in England, now restricted to a small minority country-wide. If the accusation of selection were proved, then academies could be viewed as emerging independent or grammar schools which are funded by the state.
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". 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.
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 Peter Vardy, who has been accused of promoting the teaching of creationism alongside macroevolution in his Emmanuel Schools Foundation academies. 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 academies (one estimate puts it at "more than half") being sponsored either by religious groups or organisations/individuals with a religious affiliation.
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".
There are indications that several city academies are failing. Ofsted has placed the Unity Academy in Middlesbrough and the Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle under special measures, heavily criticised the West London Academy in Ealing and condemned standards at the Business Academy in Bexley, Kent, which is now earmarked for closure.
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 and was placed in special measures, with the headmaster and chief executive being immediately replaced.
The programme has further been attacked for its expense: it costs on average £25m 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. Some operators are paying senior staff six-figure salaries, partly funded by central government.
The Conservative Party has supported the academy proposal from its inception, only adding the caveat that the scheme should go further. 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.
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. 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".
In 2005, Willis' successor, Ed Davey, argued that academies were creating a "two-tier education system" and called for the academy programme to be halted until "a proper analysis can be done".
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 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. As of 23 July 2010, 153 schools in England had applied for academy status, lower than the prediction that more than 1,000 would do so. In spite of the expanding Academy programme, in August 2010 Gove announced that 75 existing academy rebuild projects were likely to be scaled back.
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.
Operators of academies
A number of private and charitable organizations run groups of academies. These major operators include ARK (Absolute Return for Kids), Academies Enterprise Trust, Edutrust Academies Charitable Trust (E-ACT), Emmanuel Schools Foundation, Harris Federation, Learning Schools Trust, Oasis Trust, Ormiston Academies Trust, Priory Federation, Schools Partnership Trust and United Learning Trust.
- Specialist Schools and Academies Trust
- Free school (England)
- Comprehensive System
- Education in England
- Foundation school
- Grant-maintained school
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- The DCSF Academies website
- Specialist Schools official website
- Anti Academies Alliance
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- "Do academy schools really work?", Lisa Freedman, Prospect magazine, 24 February 2010.
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Schools by educational stage by funding / eligibility by style of education by scope
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