What is an academy?
Academies are state funded schools which have been established to help improve education standards by replacing failing schools. An academy can be set up through sponsors from businesses, charities, local authorities or voluntary groups working in partnership with the Department for Education (DfE). Academies are not maintained by local authorities, but work closely with them as well as with other local schools in the area.
There are currently over 600 academies in England and more than 450 schools are currently in the process of converting.
Who can set up an academy?
Originally, only ‘outstanding’ schools were eligible for academy status. However, since November 2010 every school has been able to apply to become an academy. Schools which are considered to be under - performing are encouraged to form partnerships with stronger schools, in order to improve their performance.
From January 2011 Special Schools can also apply to become academies, to enable them to respond better to the needs of children with special education needs or disabilities.
Benefits of academies
According to the DfE, academies benefit from greater freedoms to innovate and raise standards, including:
- freedom from local authority (LA) control
- the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff
- freedoms around the delivery of the curriculum
- the ability to change the lengths of terms and school days.
Academies are part of a long term strategy to raise standards and improve education in disadvantaged areas. Innovative approaches to management, governance, teaching and the curriculum have been introduced in a bid to improve the quality of the school. A broad and balanced curriculum as well as good teaching and excellent facilities is offered to all pupils, regardless of their abilities.
Academies are designed to achieve high educational attainment, by using the national curriculum and specialising in a particular theme. Evidence underlining the effectiveness of academies includes:
- Ofsted found one third of academies to be outstanding and over 90% to be good or better for leadership and management
- The National Audit Office found that GCSE performance in academies is substantially better than in other schools
- PricewaterhouseCoopers found that standards in academies are rising at a faster rate than the national average.
Academy schools can provide many benefits to their surrounding areas and play a key part in the regeneration of communities. They help to break the cycle of underachievement in areas of social and economic deprivation by sharing their expertise and facilities with other local schools and the wider community.
Converting to an academy can be a better option for struggling Independent schools as opposed to closing down; pupils continue their education with the same classmates at the same school and teachers don’t face losing their jobs.
Research from the National Foundation for Educational Research has found that academies admit a higher percentage of pupils with Special Education Needs (SEN) than other schools.
Academies receive the same level of per-pupil funding as they would receive from the LA as a maintained school, plus additions to cover the services that it no longer provides. However, academies have greater freedom over how they use their budgets to best benefit their students. Academies receive their funding directly from the Young People’s Learning Agency (an agency of the DfE).
How schools become academies
It is estimated that it takes a school approximately three months to convert to an academy, providing that there are no complications. The process leading to academy status includes:
The first stage of becoming an academy requires the school to fill out an online registration form: http://www.education.gov.uk/contactforms/academies/contact.cfm.
The DfE then provides further guidance and documentation.
Application to convert
This includes the confirmation of a Governing Body resolution, the agreement of the school’s foundation and verification of their rating from Ofsted. The Secretary of State for Education then decides whether the school can progress to the next stage of the application process.
All academies enter into a contract – the funding agreement – with a charitable company, which is often referred to as the academy trust. The funding agreement provides the framework within which the academy must operate.
Pre - opening
Before opening as a new academy, schools need to implement new financial systems, contractual arrangements, complete all registrations and ensure that all necessary CRB checks are carried out.
FAQs about academies
Q. What does converting to an academy involve?
A. The conversion process to become an academy has been made as simple as possible for all schools. For more information visit www.education.gov.uk and application forms are available at http://www.education.gov.uk/contactforms/academies/contact.cfm
Q. Do I need to get approval from my local authority before setting up an academy?
A. Schools are free to discuss plans to become an academy with local partners, which can include their LA. However, LA approval is not needed; all that is required is a resolution which has been passed by the school’s governing body. Once the Secretary of State has confirmed that a school will become an academy, s/he will direct the LA to stop maintaining it.
Q. How do admissions to academies work?
A. All academies are required to adopt clear and fair admission arrangements in line with the admissions law and the School Admissions Code. This involves periodic consultation and regularly publishing the academy’s admission arrangements.
Q. How is an academy funded?
A. Academies require funding to ensure that they are set up, maintained and developed properly. The different types of funding include an initial grant for revenue and implementation costs of establishing an academy, a capital grant for buildings, and funding for running costs once the academy has been opened.
Academies receive a General Annual Grant from the Secretary of State for normal running costs, calculated on the basis of the funding formula used by its Local Authority. In addition, academies are eligible to receive Standards Fund Grant and Leadership Incentive Grant, which are routed through LAs.
Q. Do Special Schools need to consult before converting to an academy?
A. Yes, all schools are required to carry out a consultation before converting, but this is a very straight-forward and flexible process. Schools can decide for themselves who to consult and how to carry out the process.
As with any other school, Special Schools can discuss any plans with local partners and their LA, but these plans do not need to be approved.