The Truth about Academies










By Jobbing Teacher                                    Follow me on Facebook

Everyone will have noticed the current coalition government’s almost messianic obsession with state schools becoming ‘Academies’. The education secretary Michael Gove is even starting to use his powers to force schools to change to academy status, even when governors of the school and parents do not want it. So what is all the fuss about?

Ironically, Academy schools were pioneered by the previous Labour government when Tony Blair’s former adviser Andrew Adonis was in charge of education.

What exactly makes an academy different?”


The view of the former Schools Commissioner, Sir Bruce Liddington, who heads EACT, which sponsors eight academies with more in the pipeline is that Academy status is “a state of mind more than anything else”.

In truth though, Academy status removes the school from the local authority control. Academies are, in effect, public funded independent state schools. Are you with me so far?

A number of Headteachers and politicians trumpet the new freedoms given to academies to ‘innovate’ in the drive to ‘raise standards’. But, the list of freedoms gained through academy status includes:

  • freedom to adapt the national curriculum,
  • freedom to vary teachers’ pay and conditions, and
  • Freedom to vary the length of the school day/week/year.

 As a parent, you might think like me – is that it?

 Hidden in the small print though is;

“An academy becomes its own admissions”


This leads on to a very interesting question. If a school is forced to become an academy because of poor exam results or SATs in the case of primary school, how will these limited freedoms do the job of getting better exam results?

  It is difficult to answer this question, but if you look at academies formed under the last Government that have been in existence for long enough to realistically determine if the status has raised standards you find an interesting picture.

 The Academies that consistently over time raised educational achievement (i.e. got better exam results and therefore moved up the exam league tables) did it in one way, and one way only.

Namely, they subtly and gradually changed their intake. For the un-initiated this means;

 They stopped taking challenging or low ability pupils from their traditional catchment area, and started taking in higher ability pupils from neighboring schools. The net result being their results went up and neighboring schools results went down.

 It’s not rocket science is it? In fact, it is a wonderfully simple and powerful model based on the ‘free-market’ business model so beloved by our politicians.

 However, the big flaw in any free market philosophy applied to education is that it will produce winners and losers. If your child ends up in a ‘loser’ school………….

 So why are already good schools jumping on the bandwagon? Surely, without Ofsted dictating their policies, they have the freedom already to pursue educational ideals based on providing a balanced and liberal education that develops the whole-child and prepares them to become good adults.

 The answer to this question is again simple if we look through the lens of a free-market economic business model


They follow the money!!


As with grant maintained schools under the last Tory government, academy status brings a cash uplift of 10% or more. This is the money otherwise held back by town halls for central education services. For a large secondary school that could be £400,000 a year. How long this will last under the present economic climate though is anyone’s guess.

 More and more schools, including primaries, are now part of federations or groups of academies. These find academy status easier to handle than stand-alone schools. So the big change ahead may be less about the creation of more academies and more about the start of an era of large chains of schools run by academy sponsors or education management firms.

This brings up another interesting question over whether local education authorities will be left without the capacity to intervene when cracks appear in local school provision. If that happens, it may have to be the new school chain managers and sponsors that will have to step into the local authority’s shoes. But unlike local councils, they cannot be voted out by parents and local voters.

The real test of the new system will be when an area finds itself with either too many or too few school places or where formerly “outstanding” schools start to drop from their high standards. At present town halls and Ofsted can step in if these circumstances arise – but will they still be able to in the future?

 So, what does Academy status mean for teachers?

  • Changes to pay and conditions
  • Forced to work longer hours (including weekends and holidays)
  • It is easier to get sacked if you don’t toe the line
  • Exam results are all that matter
  • Your academy Principal is God and can say and do what they please to you
  • You will be required to try every trick in the book to get exam results up

 What does it mean for parents and pupils?

  • Constant pressure to academically achieve
  • New uniform (seems to be mainly blazers!!)
  • Your academy Principal is God and can say and do what they please to you
  • Kicked out if you don’t toe the line
  • More things that need to be paid for!!!
  • Kids pushed to stay at school later and on weekends/holidays
  • Don’t even think about a holiday in term time!!!


This is a Brave New World that would even cause a wry smile on Aldous Huxley’s face. Does your child attend an Academy? If so, what is different?








Posted in Education Policy, School Leadership, School Organisation Tagged with: , , ,
2 comments on “The Truth about Academies
  1. L Turner says:

    I’m currently on maternity leave and my school is going through some drastic changes. One of which is likely to be turned into an academy come September. I don’t plan on being there when that change happens

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