The UK’s education system can be quite confusing. From Free schools, to Faith schools, Academies, boarding schools and private schools, it’s easy to see how complicated everything can get. Keeping track of what each one entails isn’t simple, which is why we will be focusing our next few blogs on explaining each one. To start off, we decided to discuss Academies and the rather new role they play in our children’s lives and futures.
In a nutshell:
Academies were established in 2000 by Tony Blair as a way of fixing the failed state school problem by replacing them. Currently, our education minister hopes to make them the ‘norm’. The GOV.UK page sums Academies up as publicly funded independent schools. It seems like terms of contradiction, right? According to their webpage, “they (Academies) don’t have to follow the national curriculum and can set their own term times. They still have to follow the same rules on admissions, special educational needs and exclusions as other state schools”.
As independent, state-funded schools, Academies receive their funding directly from the central government, rather than through a local authority. All types of state schools are funded through national and local taxation. Local authorities are responsible for education within their jurisdiction but are not responsible for Academies.
Academies were established by the 1997–2010 Labour Government to replace poorly performing community schools in areas of high social and economic deprivation. Their start-up costs are typically funded by private means, such as entrepreneurs or NGOs, with running costs met by Central Government. They are administratively free from direct local authority control. In other words, they are free, state-funded schools which are run by charitable trusts. They cannot be run for profit. As The Guardian wrote a few years ago, “They are not under local authority control and so arguably are subject to less bureaucracy and have more freedom over their budgets. They can change the length of the school term and day”. Certain academies may have sponsors including businesses, universities, faith groups, voluntary groups or even other schools. This had led to a bit of controversy which we will discuss in the last section.
Overall, Academies have their own admissions process, and therefore have more freedom than other state schools to run their school by having more room to innovate and develop their own system and filter the student body. The head teacher or principal deals with the daily running of an Academy, however, Academy trusts (individual charitable bodies) oversee many aspects of the school such as strategic advising, plans or support.
Although Academies were initially about improving failing schools, it now “has changed radically to embrace all types of schools – successful or otherwise. All schools – primary as well as secondary – have been invited to convert to Academy status, with priority being given to the best performers”, according to the BBC. A few years ago, there were plans to have all schools convert to Academies by 2020 or committed to by 2022. However, as these plans gave rise to strong criticism, from teaching unions as well as Conservative MPs and councillors. They are now abandoned.
The controversy surrounding these schools is the government believes it allows the schools more freedom to be inventive about the length of school day and term times as well as teachers’ pay and opting out of national curriculum. However, a number of MPs’ committees have “criticised the academies programme for a lack of oversight, in terms of finances and public accountability”. As the BBC explains, teaching unions believe that turning schools into Academies is a big step towards privatising the school system and are concerned. However, as the GOV.UK page states: “Academies are free, state-funded schools which are run by charitable trusts. They cannot be run for profit. Profit-making schools were explicitly ruled out in our manifesto and will continue to be: charity law would expressly prevent this. The school system is not being privatised – instead heads and teachers are being given greater freedom to run their schools. There are already strict rules in place which prevent individuals and companies profiting from their relationship with an academy, as with local-authority schools, academies cannot sell or change the use of publicly funded school land without government approval. This will not change”.
For more information about the number of Academies, who oversees these schools and how they operate in the rest of the UK, read the BBC article, mentioned above. In addition, the GOV.UK page 10 facts you need to know about academies is very useful.
Our next blog will focus on the differences between private and state schools and highlight the pros and cons of both systems. As we have seen in the news and with the families we tutor, this topic has been a heated one for years, leaving many parents concerned they have not chosen the right one for their child. Stay tuned to learn find out what we have learned from our research.
As a bespoke tutoring and education service in London, we’re here to answer any questions and provide full support for your child’s education. Our Education Consultants know the ins and outs of the UK’s education system and ensure that our students excel at school by knowing the system and how it works transparently.