What are Academy Schools in the UK

Academy schools, in the United Kingdom, form part of the state education system. There are no academy schools in Wales. Ex Prime Minister Tony Blair established academies 2000, as “city academies”, to drive up education standards by replacing failing schools. Blair’s government later dropped the word ‘city’ so that academies could be established anywhere, even in rural areas. The current Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition government changed the system. Academies are different to most state schools local authorities run all the ordinary state schools in their area. Local authorities receive money from central government in the form of a block grant and then decide how to divide the education budget between all the area’s schools. Academies receive their funds directly from the government and are outside local authority control. There are currently around a thousand academy schools in the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom government believes that academies benefit from greater freedoms and provide a first class education but that is a moot point. What is certain is that they are free from Local Authority control and are free to set their own staff pay and conditions. They can change term lengths and vary the school day. Whereas local authority controlled schools must deliver the very detailed and prescribed National Curriculum, academy schools must only deliver a broad and balanced curriculum.

Some academies have a sponsor. The sponsor must invest 2 million pounds capital investment before establishing an academy, the government then provides the remaining capital investment. However, the coalition government has recently relaxed this requirement to encourage more academy schools. Sponsors can be successful schools, universities, charities, faith bodies, or they can be businesses and this causes some people disquiet, they feel very uncomfortable with businesses having control and influence over young impressionable minds. The UK government’s own page about academies says that sponsors must improve the performance of their schools by “challenging traditional thinking” on how schools should be run and what the pupil school experience should be and that they should provide “leadership and vision”. The sponsor also appoints the governors, two of whom must be parent-governors.

Academy schools receive the same amount per pupil as a local authority school and additions, to cover services no longer received from the local authority, directly from the Education Funding Agency. However, academy schools have far greater freedom in how they use their budgets than Local Authority schools do. Academy sponsors, businesses, or other bodies may provide additional finances

Local Authorities employ teachers, and other workers, working in the schools that they maintain. Governors employ teachers and other workers in academies. Teachers and other local authority workers’ pay and terms and conditions of employment are currently subject to national agreements, although the government is seeking to change this. Many feel that this seceding from national agreements will drive wages down.

Academy schools are very controversial. There has been very much disquiet about them including a group of academy schools, which teach a very narrow fundamentalist Christian world view, other academies alleged to teach homo-phobia, and that the alleged increasing standards and learning outcomes of academies, over local authority maintained schools,  have been over-hyped and are very selective. Recent Education Department figures about GCSE results point to the fact the expected increases in standards are not often realized. The coalition government and Michael Gove its Education Minister are enthusiastically encouraging schools, even primary schools to become academies.

A school can become an academy without any consultation and against the wishes of the parents of the pupils attending the school and the wider community. Whilst the government, loudly proclaims the academy policy as empowering local communities, nobody except the Education Minister and the governors have any control over the school.

Some academies in financial difficulties cost the taxpayer nearly 11 million pounds in financial bailouts, in the eighteen-month period to March 2012.

Academy status does not necessarily guarantee increasing standards. An academy school, which achieved academy status in August 2011, was placed in special measures, that is, under the supervision of the school inspectorate, OFSTED, in February 2012 because of failures and inadequacies found in an inspection visit in December 2011. Another was placed in special measures, as a failing school, in January 2012; it had been open for two years.

A January BBC television programme, “Newsnight”, highlighted how some academies achieve good results by unofficially excluding disruptive, difficult or vulnerable pupils, by using sneaky tactics to persuade them to change schools.

The coalition government is enthusiastic about academy schools but, despite the hype, they do not necessarily improve education, pupils’ attainment, or community control. Many people believe that they are privatization of the state education system by the back door, others believe that they allow too many people with hidden agendas far too much control and influence over children’s minds. The system is untested and the government use misleading figures to validate their belief in the system. They are unaccountable to parents or communities, who have no control over them. Academies are currently government maintained, directly funded, independent schools in parts of the United Kingdom. The Welsh Assembly has no plans to introduce the academy system.