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Academy schools: Are they a good or a bad thing?

Academy schools - are they good or bad?

There have been many stories in the press recently about academy schools. For example: investigations into schools breaching transparency rules and reports stating that academies are the key to improving schools in the North. Most recently the government decided to drop legislation to turn all schools into academies by 2022. Academy schools have always been subject to debate, but why all the fuss? We take a brief look at what academy schools do and what their supporters and critics say:

What exactly are academy schools?

Academy schools in England are funded directly by the Department For Education and are independent of Local Authority control. Overseen by individual charitable bodies called academy trusts, they receive additional support from personal or corporate sponsors. Academies are able to operate their own admissions process and do not have to follow the national curriculum.

The concept of academy schools originated under the Labour government who sought to improve failing schools, especially in deprived areas. This expanded to include all types of schools, be they successful or otherwise. Today, of the 3381 secondary schools and 16766 primary schools in England, 2075 secondary and 2440 primary schools have academy status.

Some of the advantages of academy schools:

  • Supporters believe giving headteachers more power will increase standards. By giving headteachers control over the running of their school, they can better oversee performance-related pay, who they hire, length of the school day and term times. This increased freedom gives space for more innovative teaching helping to bring about better standards.
  • Supporters also argue that academy schools serve to fill a gap in areas where there are not enough school places for primary and secondary students. Furthermore, successful schools can support others to deliver greater cohesion and working practices.

Some of the disadvantages of academy schools:

  • Those against academy schools believe they deny parents and teachers the right to choose the type of school they want. Schools given academy status can be funded by narrow interest groups. As they do not have to stick to the national curriculum, schools can choose to teach controversial subjects, for instance, creationism instead of biology.
  • Critics also argue that there is a lack of transparency when it comes to use of school finances and public accountability. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED) publicly criticised private providers for failing to improve school results, while paying board members large salaries.
  • Critics believe that academies have forced struggling schools which could have improved to close down, causing a placement shortfall in areas where not all students are guaranteed a place at a new academy.

For good or bad, academy schools have and will continue to be a part of the educational landscape. What do you think about them? Do let us know in the comments below.

Rianne McLean

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