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Education Update

About Academies

By Rachel Cadby, November 2007

What’s the vision behind Academies?
Academies were announced in 2000 as a means of improving standards in education.

Schools that were considered to be ‘failing’ could apply to become a City Academy, in order to help raise standards in achievement. The current definition of a ‘failing’ school is one where less than 30% of students leave with 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and Maths.

Success in achievement for young people in these Academies would also impact opportunities and standards of living in the wider community. Academies are therefore linked into wider strategies for social regeneration.

What is the definition of an Academy?
The Department for Education and Skills state that:

“Academies are publicly funded independent schools that provide a first class free education to local pupils of all abilities. They bring a distinctive approach to school leadership drawing on the skills of sponsors and other supporters. They give Principals and staff new opportunities to develop educational strategies to raise standards and contribute to diversity in areas of disadvantage.”

What does this mean in practice?

‘Publicly funded independent schools’

Academies are independent of the LEA, although they are given state funding. They operate in partnership with local businesses, faith groups and voluntary groups.

These groups sponsor the Academy, and have a say in the ethos and running of the school.

Schools need to find sponsors to the sum of £2 million pounds in order to gain Academy Status.

‘A first class, free education to local pupils of all abilities’

Academies are there to serve the community first and foremost. They were conceived primarily as a means of improving attainment. They generally exist in poorer areas: a high proportion of students are entitled to free school meals. The idea is that these schools will offer students the best start in life by ensuring a quality education.

This rule of thumb applies to faith Academies too.

‘A distinctive approach to school leadership, drawing on the skills of sponsors and other supporters.’

State-maintained schools get told how they should run their schools by the Local Education Authority. Academies, on the other hand, are influenced by the people on the board.

How this works in practice depends on the individual Academy. However, it allows for an enriched curriculum and a particular ethos for the school and unique opportunities drawn from the benefit of partners’ experience.

For example, the City Academy Bristol is sponsored by a local businessman, the University of the West of England and Bristol City Football Club. Its specialism is sport; it runs an elite football academy and offers sports scholarships with exceptional extra training.

There are several Academies sponsored by Christian groups: for example, Sir Peter Vardy and the Oasis Trust. In faith Academies, there is more freedom to create an ethos and curriculum based around Christian beliefs and values.

‘They give Principals and staff new opportunities to develop educational strategies to raise standards…’

As with other independent schools, existing Academies are under no obligation to teach the National Curriculum. However, from September 2007, new Academies must teach the National Curriculum in English, Maths and ICT – the core subjects. In practice, many Academies will teach subjects as recommended by the NC, as this offers a good foundation of knowledge and skills that tie into GCSE courses.

Having said this, this freedom from prescribed curriculum constraints means that Academies can pioneer new curriculums or methods of learning in order to help improve attainment. An example is the City Academy Bristol’s ‘Project 7’: cross-curricular, project-based learning time for Year 7 students that focus on sharpening key skills for effective learning (e.g. time management, independence, empathy skills, research skills, etc). The hope is that, by investing time in teaching students to be good learners in year 7, these students will have all the tools they need to achieve and succeed by the time GCSEs beckon.

What else is there to know about Academies?
Academies are built either to replace an existing failing school, or in areas where there are not sufficient school places for demand. They provide an ‘excellent environment for teaching and learning’ as a priority, and so are bright, well-equipped, and incorporate state of the art designs.

The DfES state that ‘each Academy will offer local solutions to local needs’. This means that every Academy, like every school, has its own unique identity, ethos and strategies to meet the needs of the individual community in which they are placed.

How many Academies are in existence?

83 currently open, each with a distinct subject specialism.

144 ‘live’ projects: schools in the process of becoming Academies / in ‘feasibility’ stage

230 Academies by 2010

What about faith involvement?
Out of the 80+ Academies currently open, 24 are sponsored by faith groups. These sponsors include Sir Peter Vardy and the Oasis Trust. The Church of England are looking to sponsor 100 faith Academies, and the government have announced plans to open ‘multi-faith Academies’, i.e. Academies to cater jointly for both Christian and Muslim students.

What does the future hold?
The Labour government is keen to push forward with Academies, claiming that they are proving successful in their bid to transform levels of achievement.

David Cameron’s plans share a lot in common with Academies, but with one critical, and controversial, difference. He wants to see more state-funded, independent schools being run by faith groups, charities and not-for-profit organisations in areas of deprivation. But unlike Labour’s Academies, these are not simply to replace failing schools, or in places where there are insufficient school places. These will be established in order to increase parental choice, catering for those parents whose children failed to get into their first choice of secondary school.