The Learning and Skills Act 2000 was introduced by former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair to introduce academies in a bid to give schools in deprived inner-city areas a boost. These academies are independent schools which receive their funding directly from the Government as opposed to their local council – this provides these academies with freedom and independence so that they can establish their own approach of providing education to pupils.
Encouraging Conversion to Academies
The 2010 Academies Act in 2010 then gave all schools in England the freedom to choose to become an academy – now over 50% of pupils in the state-funded education system are taught in an academy or free school. So, why are so many schools now becoming academies and what are the benefits to both students and the schools?
Freedom to Innovate
The main benefit is that the school is free to innovate. Although still inspected by Ofsted, an academy has the freedom to set its own rules and spend the funding how it wishes. This means that you often see academies using the latest and best technology, have alternative lengths of school days and term times and devising their own curriculum. Essentially, this hands the power back to the schools who know how to make the best decisions for pupils and their communities.
Types of Academies
There are two main types of academies and it is important to be aware of the difference. A sponsored academy, as the name suggests, will have sponsors who have control of the academy trust (academies run by individual charitable bodies) – these are usually schools which have under-performed and converted improve their performance. A converter academy, meanwhile, is a school which was successful and often had excellent Ofsted grades which has chosen to convert for increased autonomy (these were introduced in 2010 as part of the Academies Act).
The opinion on academies is mixed with some stating that academies improve twice as fast as state schools while others claim that it is a way of privatising the school system. Again, results are mixed with some academies performing exceptionally well while others have struggled which is a symptom of providing so much freedom. It is certainly a complex area and one which should carefully be considered by any state school. It is a good idea to seek expert legal advice from somewhere like Browne Jacobson on relation to converting to an academy.
There has been a push in recent times for schools to make the switch to academies and it is easy to see why as there can be many benefits. This provides great freedom and flexibility by giving the schools greater control, but this is also a complex area and one which divides opinion so it is an area that any school will need to carefully consider.