The Hallowed Halls Of Academia

The-Hallowed-Halls-Of-AcademiaQuestion: How many of the 3,381 UK secondary schools are currently academies?

Answer: 2,075 – The Chancellor yesterday announced in the Budget that all schools in England must become academies by 2022.

As I’m sure you will have noticed, yesterday was Budget Day, the government’s yearly review of taxation and spending. This year the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s speech contained several announcements concerning education. One of them was a tax on sugar in soft drinks (an issue looked at in a previous Education Quizzes blog) which will raise money to help fund sports in primary schools. Other policies affecting education include the allocation of £500m to be spent on finding a ‘fair funding’ formula for English schools, the possibility of making maths lessons compulsory until the age of 18, and forcing all schools in England to become academies by the year 2022. With such a change on the cards it’s important to know what exactly an academy is and what effect such a policy will have on our children’s education.

Academy schools were introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour Government in 2000 as a means to improve struggling schools in deprived areas of the country.  The main difference between academy and non-academy schools is the allocation of funding. Academy schools get their money directly from the Department for Education rather than the local authority.  This gives them independence from local authority control and instead they are run by academy trusts.  Although they must stick to the National Curriculum in maths, English and science, they do have some freedom in other subjects and many specialise in things such as business or sports science for example.

Head teachers in academies have control over their budget and are free to set the levels of teachers’ pay, along with the subjects taught, term times and the length of the school day. This freedom, the government says, makes their performance improve twice as quickly as that of non-academy schools. Interestingly figures obtained in 2012 show that academies were outperformed by non-academies. This may be misleading however because at the time academies were mostly in disadvantaged areas and intended to improve results. It would be helpful to see how this has changed in the intervening four years but, alas, the results are not yet available.

Not everyone agrees that academies are a good thing of course. Many critics believe that they have become a step towards the privatisation of education. There are also concerns about some of the sponsors – a prime example being Sir Peter Vardy, an Evangelical Christian car dealer whose academy in the North of England taught creationism in biology lessons.  And by no means all academies are successful. The Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle, sponsored by the owner of the haulier Eddie Stobart, opened in September 2008. Four months later parents and pupils were protesting about the poor quality of facilities and education. The school was eventually placed in special measures.

So that’s academies for you, but is there another aspect of education you’d like to find out more about? If so, then our Knowledge Bank page is the place to go. It has articles which aim to answer parents’ questions on schooling together with advice on parenting issues such as child development and the importance of sleep. Why not take a look?

I must admit that my main concern about academies was a two-tier education system. But if all schools are to be academies than there is no such issue.

Do you think that academies are a good idea or a bad one?  Or do you think they have both good and bad points?  Is your child’s school an academy?  If so what is your experience of it?  Do let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

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