Academies are state funded independent schools and were introduced in England in 2000 by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
These institutions get their funds directly from the Department for Education and are given a good deal of freedom, although they still must meet the core requirements for the National Curriculum. The special freedoms that academies enjoy include:
• the ability to make changes to the length of a term,
• the ability to change the length of the school day,
• freedom from control by the local authorities,
• the freedom to depart from the national curriculum to a certain degree.
As well as receiving funds from central government Academies are also allowed to receive funds from private concerns. When they were first introduced there was a lot of opposition, but in many ways the Academies have proven themselves.
Up until recently Academies were usually to be found in those parts of England that would be considered deprived. In most situations they were set up because the current school in the area was failing and something needed to be done. The fact that Academies introduced for this purpose have been so successful has made a lot of people sit up and listen and now there is increased interest for this type of school throughout the United Kingdom. The Academies Act was introduced in 2010 which now makes it possible for any school to apply to become an Academy in England or Wales.
The Benefits of Academies
The freedom that is awarded to Academies has been shown to bring a lot of benefits and this is why there is so much interest in expanding it. Academies have only been in existence for a relatively short time, but already we are seeing results including:
• When compared to the schools they replaced these Academies show great improvement in GCSE results. In a lot of instances the improvements in regards to exam success have been very dramatic.
• The students that these schools serve require a different approach than what was previously available. The fact that Academies have so much freedom means that they be innovative and offer something that is going to suit the students better. In the past it seemed that a problem for many of the failing schools is that they were trying to fit “square pegs into round holes”.
• Investors get a lot of say in the how the school is run and this is beneficial in a number of ways. For example, it means the business concerns can ensure that they are going to be getting future employees who are more prepared for work.
• Academies can choose to focus on one particular speciality and this is ideal for creating students who will be ideally suited to certain industries.
How to become an Academy
The Academies Act 2010 means that any school in England or Wales can now apply to become an Academy. The way that they will do this will depend on a number of different factors. The first step will be to register with the Department for Education. If a school has been judged as outstanding by Ofsted and there is agreement to the move by the school’s governing body then it is just a matter of applying directly to the Department for Education; this can be done online. Special schools who are performing well can also apply using the same procedure. If a school does not have an outstanding record at the moment then they can apply by joining a group of schools; the only condition will be that one of the schools in this group will need to be considered outstanding by Ofsted. All schools who are applying to become an Academy will also need to organise a funding agreement.
Final thoughts about Academies
Even though Academies have only been around for a relatively short time period they have already proved to be successful. The freedoms awarded to these schools really do seem to benefit students and the GCSE results speak for themselves. It seems highly likely that many more schools are now going to take advantage of the fact that they can now apply to become an Academy. It will be a few years yet before we can make any final judgement on the success of this new type of school, but what we have seen thus far is very encouraging.