The Academies Programme

Page last edited :04/06/2017


As sometimes happens this document has turned out to be longer than I originally planned but I hope that students will be able to navigate through it using the following links.  

  •  Click here  and here for BBC items on Academies
  • Click here for Guardian coverage of Academies [600+ articles]
  • Click here for   a useful overview from
  • Click here for the 2011-2012 DFE annual report on academies and here for the 2013-2014 Report published in June 2015
  • Click here for  a clear, detailed, advanced academic paper on The Academies Programme by Ruth Goodman and Diana Burton [ Liverpool John Moores University] . This link has apparently been broken for some time but has now been mended!
  • Click here for Independent coverage and here for BBC coverage of recent Select Committee on Education Report [November 2013]
  • Click here for recent item from the BBC
  • Click here for recent Guardian article for full report on effectiveness of academies
  • Click here for Guardian  coverage and here for BBC coverage of new system of regulation for Academies and Free Schools
  • Click here for BBC coverage and here for Independent coverage of recent Nottingham School inspections.[6 Nottingham schools including 3 Academies placed in Special Measures.]
  •  Click here for Huffington Posta article on the banning of teaching creationism as science in academies and free schools.
  • Click here for links to Education Select Committee televised evidence sessions on Academies and Free Schools: October 22nd 2014

Click here and here and here and here for BBC coverage of the Trojan Horse affair

Click here for a series of articles from the MontroseBlog


  • Click here for House of Commons Education Select Committee Report on Academies and Free Schools. VERY IMPORTANT NEW LINK added September 2020


Click here for recent data on Academies and Free Schools


Latest Links from April 2015 onwards

  • Click here for Guardian coverage and here for BBC coverage of DFE report on Academy Chains .
  • Click here  for DFE report on Academy Chains
  • Click here   for BBC coverage of new Bill to accelerate the conversion to Academies 
  • Click here critical assessment of Academies programme by Henry Stewart
  • Annual Academies Report from DFE  July 2015
  • Links to the "Coasting Schools Controversy: here   July 2015
  • Link to full academic paper by A. Eyles,  S Machin and O. Silva   September 2015
  • Link to Warwick Mansell Guardian article on UK Statistical Authority criticism of DFE interpetation of Academies' SATs results. [November 2015.Article published July 2015]
  • Click here for London Review of Books article By Dawn Evans on free schools and academies March 17th 2016
  • Click here and here for BBC coverage of compulsory academisation March 17th 2016
  • Click here for a page of links on Conservative Education Policies which includes several additional links on Academies March 17th 2016
  • Click here for article by Jonathan MS Pearce on academisation March 23rd 2016
  • Click here for a summary assessment of Academies published in May 2017
  • Click here for a Full Fact analysis of academies and maintained schools
  • Click here for article by Peter Wilby on compulsory academisation March 23rd 2016
  • Click here for Schoolsweek article by Laura McInerney ion the nature of academies March 17th 2016
  • Click here for Guardian article on compulsory academisation March 17th 2016

  • The Academies Programme
    • The Key Features of Labour's Academies Programme
    • Advantages Claimed for Academies [Labour and/or Coalition]
    • Criticisms of Academies [Labour and/or Coalition]
    • Labour's Sponsored  Academies and Examination Results [Summary]
    • Labour's Sponsored  Academies and Examination Results [Some Detailed Case Studies]
    • The Coalition and Academies
    • Free Schools
  • Some Further Information [ Further Links]
  • Introduction

Under  Conservative Governments [1979-1997] and Labour Governments [1997-2010] the development of education policy was influenced by a so-called diversity and choice agenda which resulted in the growth of a quasi-market in secondary education which  reflected the influence  the principles of Public Choice Theory  and  Neo-Liberalism/Market Liberalism .Neo-Liberals claim that just as in the capitalist economic system  consumer choices between alternative goods and services result in the relative expansion of efficient companies at the expense of inefficient companies increased parental choice of schools would  have similar beneficial effects in the education system.  Parents would now be able to choose  among different primary schools and different types of secondary school[ Private, Grammar, City Technology Colleges, Opted Out Grant Maintained Schools and Comprehensive Schools remaining under LEA control, some [not all] of which would in 1992 be designated "Specialist Schools" thereby introducing further diversity into the secondary sector] and according to Neo -Liberals/Market liberals these parental choices combined with the new funding system based upon pupil numbers would result in the relative expansion of effective schools at the expense of ineffective schools leading to the improvement of overall educational standards.

New Labour under Tony Blair accepted much of the Thatcherite neo-liberal agenda while at the same time claiming to support  a modernised version of social democracy which would be more in tune with the demands of an increasingly globalised world economy [all of which has been described , accurately or otherwise, by left wing critics as amounting to little more than "warmed over neo-liberalism" or "Thatcherism with a smiling face"]

It is likely that in the mid 1990s Tony Blair, David Blunkett and their policy advisers believed that the Labour Party was identified too closely in the electorate's mind with uncritical support for progressive education and the comprehensive principle and with dogmatic opposition to grammar schools and private education and to recent Conservative reforms such the National Curriculum,  more rigorous school inspection regimes and increased secondary school diversity. Consequently successive Labour Governments accepted much of the above mentioned neo-liberal rationale for the development of a quasi market in education and  Labour's 1997 General Election manifesto  emphasised that Labour would abolish grammar schools only if a majority of eligible parents voted for their abolition; that private schools would be retained with governmental efforts  to enhance their links with state schools; and that although Grant Maintained schools would be replaced by Foundation schools this did not amount to a very significant change in the overall structure of educational provision.  Furthermore City Technology Schools and Faith Schools would be retained, the Specialist School Programme would be much expanded and from 2002 the Labour Government embarked on its City Academy Programme , soon to be renamed  as the Academies Programme.

Some critics of Labour's education policies have argued that Labour adopted an overall rhetoric which could be interpreted as suggesting a criticism of the fundamental principle of comprehensivisation and as undermining the best efforts  of teachers working  in the more "challenging" comprehensive schools. Thus Tony Blair's first Secretary of State for Education  "named and shamed" 18 comprehensive schools deemed to be "failing"; Alistair Campbell [ himself a staunch supporter of comprehensivisation] publicised Tony Blair's choice and diversity agenda  as signalling "the end of the bog standard comprehensive" while a subsequent Education Secretary Estelle Morris  stated that although some  comprehensives were very good there were others that she "would not touch with  a barge pole".

Perhaps the most forceful supporter of the choice and diversity agenda was the Prime Minister's education adviser and subsequent Minister for Education Lord Andrew Adonis. In his recent book "Education: Education: Education" Lord Adonis has criticised the roles of some Local Education Authorities and the Teachers Unions  in the development and implementation of education policy and claimed that in many cases little had been done to modernise many [but certainly not all] comprehensive schools which consequently , even at the beginning of the 21st Century, could be described as essentially "Secondary Modern Comprehensives." Thus , for Lord Adonis  the choice and diversity agenda in general and the Academies Programme in particular represented an attempt not to undermine the comprehensive principle but to improve the effectiveness of the comprehensive schools through reform of their management structures and teaching methods. However many continue to argue that despite the arguments of Lord Adonis , the choice and diversity agenda does indeed undermine the comprehensive principle in a manner which is highly likely to result in increasing inequality of educational opportunity.

  • The Academies Programme

Under the terms of the City Academies Programme, as it was originally called, City Academies were to be built in areas of urban deprivation but the programme was soon been extended to deprived suburban and rural areas and renamed as "The Academies programme." It may be seen as one significant aspect of Labour's strategy to address the adverse effects of economic and social deprivation on educational opportunity although critics have argued that this approach could actually increase inequality of educational opportunity.

The first three Academies were opened in 2002 and the programme expanded steadily such that in 2007 Tony Blair  that the longer term target had been increased from 200 to 400  while in practice 203 Academies were open by 2010. I begin with a description of the Academies Programme as it developed under successive Labour Governments although , as will be indicated below  the nature of the Academies Programme would change significantly under the subsequent Coalition Government.

  • The key features of Labour's  Academies programme are listed below : 
  1. Academies would be new schools which would usually but not always replace existing schools which are deemed to be failing [which under Labour was initially defined in terms of the criterion that less than 30% of pupils are achieving 5 or more A*-C GCSE pass grades. [Under the Coalition this percentage would be raised to 35%]  . In some cases Academies would take over existing school buildings which were subsequently to be extensively refurbished while in a minority of cases entirely new schools would be built.
  2. They were to be essentially all entry schools although 10% of Academies pupils could be chosen on the basis of aptitude. Notice that several analysts [here in  a clear, detailed, advanced academic paper On Academies by Ruth Goodman and Diana Burton { Liverpool John Moores University }]  have noted that it is in many cases difficult to distinguish between aptitude and ability which implies that as currently organised many Academies [and not just those which are former grammar schools now classified as Converter Academies] may well be selecting by ability when claiming not to do so.
  3. It was  possible also that all age, primary and sixth form Academies might be built in the future.
  4. Academies are "Independent state schools" which are founded as charitable companies by sponsors which initially were to be might be individuals ,or business, faith or charitable organisations.
  5. The sponsors  founding an Academy were initially to contribute £2M to the capital cost of building the school with the remaining approximately £20M of capital costs and all current costs contributed by the government.
  6. Later in the Programme the sponsor's contribution was reduced to £1.5 Million and subsequently dropped completely in the hope of encouraging public sector organisation such as universities, colleges  and hospitals  and also private schools to sponsor Academies.
  7. The rationale for the setting up of Academies was that their overall organisation was to be largely determined by their sponsors who would be relatively free from the kinds of local authority regulations which according to supporters of Academies had undermined individual school autonomy and hence school effectiveness.
  8. However in the later stages of Labour's programme it was agreed that Local Authorities could themselves act as co-sponsors of Academies but with negligible powers to determine school policy which would still be determined by the other sponsor[s].
  9. The sponsors have  considerable freedom to determine the composition of the governing body [subject to the approval of the Secretary of State], the pay and conditions of staff spending priorities,  ethos and teaching strategies  of the Academy , including the disapplication of parts of the National Curriculum although the National Curriculum must be followed in Mathematics, English and Science.
  10. However it has been stated that Academies are subject also to important government regulations. Thus under Labour the then DFE'S Website stated that "The sponsors are bound by charity law to act in the interests of the school and. are subject to a strict funding agreement.
  11. With regard to employment conditions it has been argued both that Academies may pay higher salaries which attract good teachers away from other state schools although, conversely, it has also been argued by critics  that terms of employment may actually be worse in some Academies than in the rest of the state system.!
  12. It was  envisaged that Academies would share their facilities with other local schools and with the local community more generally in a manner which could facilitate the improvement of standards in non-Academy schools.
  13. Several so-called Academy chains developed in which sponsors took over the governance of several Academies. Examples are the Academy chains directed by the Lord Harris Organisation and ARK[ Absolute Resource for Kids.] Click here for Guardian information on Harris Academies indicating often outstanding results in  secondary schools but not in primary schools]
  • Advantages claimed for Academies
  1.  Sponsors' differing types of expertise can be adapted to improve overall school effectiveness. This argument could be applied to the initial Academy sponsors from business, faith and charities' backgrounds and subsequently to sponsors from the public sector such as hospitals , universities and colleges and also to the involvement of private schools as sponsors of Academies.
  2. Sponsors would appoint more effective school governors  whose efficiency would increase further as a result of their relative freedom from Local Authority control.
  3. Greater flexibility in relation to terms and conditions of employment [including higher salaries]  would enable Academies to appoint  more effective head teachers and other teaching staff and more easily to dismiss staff deemed inefficient.
  4. The combined influence of the sponsors, the board of governors and the newly appointed teachers would generate a more positive ethos within Academies  which would be conducive to higher educational standards as measured by improved public examination results.
  5. The development of Academy Chains would enable the more effective teaching methods used in successful Academies to be used in new Academies joining established Academy Chains.
  6. The setting up of Academies  could lead also to increased effectiveness in local non-Academies partly because Academies were expected to collaborate with local non-Academies but also because increased competition with non-Academies  could be expected to drive up standards in non-Academies.
  7. Supporters of Academies argue  that on balance overall trends in examination results suggest that Academies' examination results have improved more rapidly than the examination results of non-Academies but , as we shall see, there are disputes surrounding the interpretation of these trends in examination results.
  • Criticisms of Academies. Click here  for a critical view of Academies from the New Statesman which mentions most of the following criticisms. Of course you must also adopt a questioning attitude to these criticisms!
  1. It is claimed that the sponsors controlling Academies often have little or no experience of educational management and therefore can make little strategic contribution to the running of the Academies.
  2. It is claimed that in some cases sponsors may promote a school ethos [for example a faith-based ethos or a pro-business ethos] which critics claim is inappropriate and not necessarily in accordance with the wishes of parents, pupils and , possibly, teachers. Click here for a critical assessment of the role of Faith-based organisations in the Academisation process. However do consider the other side of this argument.
  3. Socialist critics of Academies have gone further and suggested that the high visibility of successful and apparently philanthropic business people as sponsors of Academies coupled with the broader development of the quasi-market in education helps to legitimate what socialists consider to be the mistaken view that business ethics and methods can be applied equally well in both the private and public sectors.
  4. New school governors and new teachers will not necessarily be more effective than those whom they are replacing.
  5.  Michael Gove agreed that Free Schools could appoint unqualified teachers and soon extended this provision to Academies. Click here  for an Observer article indicating that in late 2012 there were 5300 unqualified Full-Time Equivalent teachers in Free Schools and Academies [ out of 442,000 FTE teachers and 120, 200 Academy teachers. I do not know how many teachers teach in free schools.]
  6. The reduced involvement of LEAs in the control of Academies may be seen as counterproductive and incompatible with the needs for local accountability of Academy sponsors, governors and teachers.
  7. It is claimed by critics that there are insufficient provisions for the representation of parents on the governing bodies of individual Academies or on the boards of multi-academy trusts. Click here for some relevant documentation from the DFE.
  8. It is claimed that Academy buildings are  expensive and that their designs are often inconsistent with the specific requirements of school buildings.
  9. It has been argued that too much money has been spent on the expensive Academy Programme  to the detriment of the rest of the education system.
  10. There may be insufficient co-operation between Academies and Non-Academies.
  11. Competition between Academies and local non=Academies may lead to the increased enrolment of high ability/well-motivated/affluent pupils in Academies and to the reduced enrolment of such pupils in non-Academies.
  12. It may be that in some cases [but certainly not all cases] Academies have been able to manipulate admissions procedures to enrol more potentially successful pupils and also that they may sometimes adopt stricter school exclusion policies which mean that "difficult" pupils are more likely to be transferred to non -Academies.
  13. It is claimed that Academies which are replacing unsuccessful schools soon begin to enrol smaller proportions of children eligible for Free School Meals. [Supporters of Academies claim that when this does occur the reason is that Academies attract a greater number of pupils so that the number of pupils eligible for FSM may increase even if the proportion falls.!!]
  14. It is argued that examination results  in the now operational Academies have not improved sufficiently to justify the high levels of expenditure on them and that these examination trends call into question whether the rapid expansion of the Academies programme should continue.
  15. Some Academies have failed to improve on the results of the Schools which they have replaced and some Academies have also failed  OFSTED inspections.
  16. In the light of the above criticisms it is claimed that the Academies Programme is being expanded too rapidly without sufficient prior assessment of its likely effectiveness.
  17. As a result of such criticisms [rejected by supporters of Academies] the Anti-Academies Alliance has been formed to campaign against academisation.  
  18. Click here for a critical Guardian article by Stephen Ball, a renowned Professor of the Sociology of Education
  • Labour's Sponsored Academies and Examination Results

It is no simple matter to assess the examination performance of Academies. However there  is some evidence that in some Academies, results are improving at a faster rate than nationally and that even where there is little improvement it may be reasonably argued that the Academies have not yet had enough time to generate significant improvements.

There have been several significant and very detailed evaluations of Labour's Academies Programme although it is probably too soon to assess the effects of the Coalition's subsequent modification policy in relation to Academies and the consequent large increase in the number of Academies. I summarise the main conclusions from some of these studies here but students who require more detailed information may follow the subsequent  links to the original articles and reports.

  • Labour's Sponsored Academies  and Examination Results : Summary Conclusions [ I believe that the following summary conclusions will be sufficient to meet the examination requirements of AS and A2 Sociology students but students should certainly confirm this with their teachers!]
  1. Bearing in mind that they are located in areas of deprivation , that they take disproportionate numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals and that they have sometimes replaced schools which were achieving relatively poor results it should not come as a surprise that several Academies are achieving results significantly below the national average .
  2. However in some cases Academies examination results have improved very significantly but in others the rate of improvement in examination results has been slow and some Academies have failed OFSTED inspections .
  3. On average  GCSE results in Labour's Sponsored Academies have improved faster than the national average rate. However critics have argued that this is not a meaningful comparison  since the majority of Academies begin with examination pass rates significantly below the national average giving greater scope for improvement . [ Nevertheless perhaps an alternative  viewpoint is possible; may it not be more difficult to improve results in a stagnating school than in a school where results  as , say, just slightly below average?]
  4. Professor Stephen Machin and his colleagues have suggested that a more useful comparison is between Academies and comparable non-Academies and their studies have indicated that initially Academies' results did not improve faster than in comparable non-Academies  but that after a few years Academies results did improve relative to comparable non-Academies although it seems to me that the relative improvement in Academies' results was fairly small.
  5. Professor Machin and James Venoit also found that in areas where Academies were set up there were some improvements in the GCSE results of non-Academies, a conclusion which has been much emphasised by Secretary of State Michael Gove in his efforts to defend the Academies Programme.
  6. Where Academies' results have improved there have been disputes as to the reasons for such improvement.
    • It may be , that as supporters of Academies claim , the process of Academisation does indeed drive up standards.
    • Alternatively increased spending on new school buildings and appointment of  a new Head Teacher and other teaching staff could improve pupil morale even if an Academy had not been created.
    • It may be that in some cases Academies examination results have improved because of changes in pupil enrolment procedures  which are not strictly speaking permitted under the terms the Pupils' Admission Code.
    • It has been suggested that Academies GCSE results have improved in some cases partly  because Academies have entered large proportions of students for GCSE equivalent subjects rather than for orthodox GCSE subjects and that when only the latter are considered the rate of improvement in some Academies' GCSE results is considerably slower.
  7. The DFE has published a significant study containing data indicating that the rate of improvement in GCSE results among Pupils eligible for free school meals is faster in Academies  which have been open for some years than in non-Academies.
  8. However Professor Stephen Machin and Olmo Silva have recently published a study suggesting that although Academies have improved there has been little improvement in the results of Academy pupils at the lower end of the ability range.
  9. Whereas it has sometimes been suggested that Academies examination results improve more rapidly the longer an Academy has been in operation a recent study published in the Independent suggests that in the case of GCE Advanced Level results Sponsored Academies may have reached a plateau and that their results have declined in recent years. The DFE rejected the study as unrepresentative. Click here for recent [August 2013] Independent article on decline in Academies' A level results
  10. Supporters of Academies have claimed that examination results are especially likely to improve if Private Schools can be encouraged to sponsor Academies in the state sector and use their teaching expertise to help the Academy to improve its examination results. This assumes that Private Schools are suited to such a task abut one recent Independent Report of Wellington College's sponsorship of Wellington Academy suggests that this may not always be the case although we must not of course generalise from this one example and the Principal of Wellington College [the talented political biographer Dr Anthony Seldon ]may well reverse this unfortunate situation in the longer term! Click here for Independent article on Private Schools becoming academies and  click here   for Independent coverage of the enforced resignation of Wellington Academy  Head due to deteriorating GCSE results. Click here for more recent information on Wellington College's sponsorship of Wellington Academy
  11. Click here for Independent coverage of research suggesting that Academies increase divisions between rich and poor students and  Click here for Guardian report of Sutton Trust research on increasing social selectivity in the English Education system.
  12. Click here  for a critical view of Academies from the New Statesman which mentions a critical analysis of official examination results data..
  •   Labour's Sponsored Academies and Examination Results : Links to Detailed Case Studies

The statistical analysis of Labour's  Academies involves considerable complexities which I have not been able to summarise here. Students who need to study these issues in more detail can consult the following sources . Doubtless many similar studies can also be found!.

Click here for Academy Schools and Pupil Performance Stephen Machin and Joan Wilson : Centrepiece 2009.

The authors note that comparison of the trends in results of Academies with the national average is unlikely to provide a meaningful comparison and so the authors attempt instead to compare Academies' performances with those of comparable schools. On the basis of a sample of Academies opened between 2002/3 and 2005/6 the authors conclude that GCSE results did improve in the schools becoming Academies and that the rate of improvement increased the longer the schools had been Academies. However the rate of improvement GCSE results in similar schools which had not become Academies was very similar and "overall changes in Academies' GCSE results relative to matched schools are statistically indistinguishable from each other." However the authors do emphasise also that the Academies programme was in its early stages and that relative improvement in Academies' results could be possible in the future.

 Click here for Academy Schools and Pupil Performance Stephen Machin and Joan Wilson : Centrepiece 2009.

 Click here for Academy Schools: who benefits?  Steven Machin and James Venoit CentrePiece Autumn 2010

In subsequent research Stephen Machin and James Venoit concluded that GCSE performance in Academies which had been open for more than two years had improved relative  to a selected comparable group of schools which were due to become Academies but had not yet done such that an extra 3% of pupils gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE /GNVQ equivalents relative to comparable schools. Also , very importantly this research suggested that GCSE results improved also in other secondary schools located in the same areas as the Academies which the authors attribute to increased competition arising out of the foundation of the Academies. 

Click here for Report on Academies of the National Audit Office published in 2010

 The National Audit Office first reported on the Academies programme in February 2007  and its latest Report , published in September 2010 begins with the following statement from Amyas Mose, the Head of the National Audit Office, " Many of the Academies established so far are performing impressively in delivering the intended improvements. It cannot be assumed, however, that academies' performance to date is an accurate predictor of how the model will perform when the model is generalised more widely. Early Academies have been primarily about school improvement in deprived areas while new academies will often be operating in very different educational and social settings. " Students requiring more detailed information may consult the original Report which does contain a concise and very useful Executive Summary.,

  Click here for a 2013 Fact Check

In  the 2011 and 2012  FactChecks Channel 4 suggest that  as  expected Secretary of State Michael Gove has been keen to emphasise the results of the above research but FactCheck author Patrick Worrall while emphasising the high quality of the above research also emphasised other significant caveats.

  1. The Academy results may have improved at least partly because they had begun to attract higher quality pupils
  2. The improvement in Academy results may have arisen partly because new schools had opened possibly with more effective Head teachers and classroom teachers not because of Academisation per se.
  3. As noted by Civitas the improvement in Academy results may have arisen partly because Academies were more likely to enter students for GCSE equivalent GNVQ courses which may have "easier" than traditional GCSE subjects such as Modern Languages, History and Geography.
  4. It has been pointed out that Academy pupils have been relatively less likely than pupils in comparable schools to attain 5  GCSE A*-C grades in the designated  EBacc subjects.
  5. Note also that the Channel 4 2012 FactCheck refers also  information from the National Audit Office which indicates that the rate of improvement in GCSE results in Academies has been faster than the national average  but points out that this is not necessarily a meaningful comparison, a point which has been emphasised by most researchers in the field
  6. The 2013 FactCheck refers to the Report of the Academies Commission which is discussed below.


Click here for a DFE publication entitled "Attainment at Key Stage 4 by pupils in academies".

This report investigates the GCSE examination results of the pupils in Labour's Sponsored Academies and compares them both with national average results and with the results of pupils attending non-Academies comparable to Academies in terms of school intakes. The DFE data indicate a faster overall rate of improvement among Academy pupils and also that the rate of improvement among pupils eligible for free school meals is faster in Academies than in non-Academies. You can find the relevant data on pages 9-25 of this Report.

The Academies Commission was set up by the Pearson Think Tank and the RSA 2to examine the long term impact of academisation on school standards and published a detailed report entitled "Unleashing Greatness in January 2013. In this report the authors repeat  the examination statistics provided in the above mentioned DFE report [see Pages 25-27 of Unleashing Greatness] and argue on this basis that the academisation process can claim some spectacular successes . Nevertheless the Academies Commission Report does point also to some cases where academies have manipulated admissions procedures  to secure apparently better examination results and emphasises also that it is essential to ensure that Academies are meeting commitments to collaborate effectively with local non-Academies; that the process for appointing sponsors is fully transparent ; and that sponsors are held fully accountable for the performance of Academies.

For further information on Unleashing Greatness:

  • Click here for a useful BBC  video clip
  • Click here for a  critical Guardian article by Professor Ron Glatter
  • Click here for further Guardian coverage
  • Click here for a more recent {October 2013 ] critical Guardian article by Professor Ron Glatter 


  • Recent Research by Stephen Machin and by Stephen Machin and Olmo Silva
  • Click here for a Guardian  2012 article by Stephen Machin emphasising that the conclusions of his research on Labour's Sponsored Academies should not be used to support the Coalition's Academisation Programme based mainly on the introduction and expansion of Converter Academies
  • Click here for a  detailed 2013 paper by Stephen Machin  and Olmo Silva
  • Click here for a brief BBC item on the main findings of this paper that Labour's Sponsored Academies have failed to improve the educational achievements of "lower ability pupils"


  • School League Tables  based upon GCSE Examination Results2012
  •  Click here for a BBC item on the 200 state schools in England with the lowest attainment at GCSE level Of these 200 schools 62 were Academies. It must of course be recognised that these schools will almost certainly have achieving disappointing examination results before they converted to Academies but critics suggest that their continuing disappointing performance suggests that Academisation is not as yet a panacea for improving school performance.
  •   Click here for a BBC item on the 200  schools in England with the highest attainment at GCSE level .top 200 schools . Nearly all of these schools were either Independent Schools or State Selective Converter Academies [designated ACC in the table]: i.e.  Grammar Schools which have recently opted for Academy Status..  ACC schools will have been designated either outstanding or good with outstanding features prior to academisation and so their impressive examination results cannot be not explained by the academisation process itself although supporters of academisation believe that this process can drive further improvement in the future.


The Coalition Government and Academies

The Coalition Government's approach to Academisation has differed in several important respects from the Academies programme of previous Labour Governments.

  • In June 2010 the Coalition Government announced that all Secondary, Primary and Secondary Schools would eventually be permitted to apply for Academy status but that  priority initially would be given to schools judged outstanding by OFSTED whose applications would be accepted automatically. Subsequently from November 2010 schools judged good but with outstanding features were also invited to apply and their applications would be assessed by DfE  officials. These Schools were defined as Converter Academies
  • Other Schools were then invited to apply but only if they were joined in a partnership with schools judged outstanding or good with outstanding features or partnered with an alternative high performing educational institution. [Click here for BBC coverage of Academy sponsorship of other Academies. There can be problems!]
  • University Technical Colleges, Free Schools and Studio Schools [ defined in "Unleashing Greatness" as "new schools for 14-19 year-olds delivering project-based practical learning alongside mainstream academic study"] would also become Academies as would some Special Schools and Pupil Referral Units
  • Meanwhile schools deemed to be failing might also be compelled to become Sponsored Academies as under the previous Labour scheme..
  • In November 2010 the Coalition Government announced that the attainment floor below which Secondary Schools would be defined as "failing" would be raised from 30% of pupils attaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C including English and Mathematics to 35% and  a floor of 50% is to take effect from 2015. Click here for new targets announced November 2010  and here for 2011 announcement of higher targets from 2015. The attainment floor was raised to 40% in 2012.
  • Also in November 2010   the Government announced that it intended to oblige force 200 under-performing primary schools to become Academies .This target was achieved by January 2013 by which time the Government had stated that a further 400 under-performing Primary Schools would soon become Sponsored Academies.
  •  By the end of July 2014 there were 3980 open academies of which 1123 were sponsored academies and 2857 were converter academies. Click here and see Page 13 for detailed DFE data on the growth of the Academies programme to July  2014. By June 2015 4676 Academies were open.
  • In practice the expansion of Academies was if anything greater than the Government had expected and as is indicated above this expansion was driven mainly by the growth of "Converter Academies" which were to be independent of Local Authority control but were not required to attract any sponsorship.
  • These Converter Academies included a significant number of Foundation Schools[ schools already operating with some autonomy from their LEAS] and Selective Grammar Schools as well as a limited number of Private Schools. It should be noted that Selective Schools were allowed to remain selective on becoming an Academy but that no non-selective school could opt to become selective after becoming an Academy. Click here for  an Independent article on Private Schools becoming academies.
  • Whereas supporters of the Academies Programme have welcomed the Coalition Government's decision to oblige an increasing number of Primary Schools [especially those deemed to be "failing" to become Academies there have also been criticisms of what the critics see as Government heavy- handedness  in this respect. Thus there was controversy  when the Downhills Primary School [Click here and here] was forced to become an Academy despite the wishes of many parents and teachers and when parents of children at the Roke Primary School [ Click here ]  were allegedly given little influence over the choice of sponsor when the school was re-established as an Academy.
  •  It has also been claimed that in several cases OFSTED inspectors have given inaccurate negative assessments of primary schools' progress in order to facilitate the acceleration of the academisation in the primary education sector[ as reported, for example, in a Guardian article by John Harris but denied by Government spokespersons. [ Click here for John Harris on Primary Academisation and click here for  comments from the Conservative Leader of  Lancashire County Council alleging excessive pressure is being employed by the DFE to encourage academisation, claims which of course are denied by the DFE ]
  • It was increasingly argued that the DfE was ill-equipped to deal with the oversight of the increasing number of academies and this led to the appointment of 8 Regional School Commissioners who would be tasked with the oversight of Academies in each region. Each Regional Commissioner would be assisted by a Head Teacher Board consisting of 4 Academy head teachers [ elected by all academy heads in that region] and 2-4 additional experienced professionals appointed by the Regional School  Commissioner. The RSCs and the Head Teachers Boards began to operate from the Summer of 2014.   Click here  for articles providing a very useful insight into the work of the Regional School Commissioners.
  • Click here for an article from 2014 on the work of Regional School Commissioners. However, in 2022 a new DfE Regions Group was set up and the 8 Regional School Commissioners were renamed as Regional Directors and an additional Regional Director was added for London. Also the new Regional Directors will have wider responsibilities than  the former Regional School Commissioners. Click here for some information on the new oversight system.  I hope to provide more information on this issue in the future.
  •  Click here for  the above mentioned  academic paper on The Academies Programme by Ruth Goodman and Diana Burton [ Liverpool John Moores University ] which contains more detailed information on the Coalition's Academisation programme including the financing  of Academies and the possible roles of Local Authorities .

The House Of Commons Education Select Committee Report on Academies and Free Schools.

[ Click here for House of Commons Education Select Committee Report on Academies and Free Schools. VERY IMPORTANT NEW LINK added January 2015 .  Scroll to pages pp for the section on Academisation and Pupil Progress]

The members of this committee have been advised by Professor Stephen Machin who has himself conducted important and highly respected research on the possible effects of academisation on pupil attainment some of which is summarised earlier in this document.


The Committee concentrate their research primarily on the effects of sponsored academisation on pupil progress arguing that it is to soon too assess the effects of the Converter Academies. However they do conclude that there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Sponsored Academies programme has led to improvements in pupil attainment. With regard to the Sponsored Academies and attainment  the main points included in the Report include the following.

  • There is evidence that rates of improvement in GCSE pass rates [5 or more A*-C GCSE pass grades] have been faster in sponsored academies
  • However given that attainment levels in sponsored academies started from a lower level some narrowing of the attainment gap between sponsored academies and non –academies was to be expected.
  • It is also important to note that despite some relative improvement attainment levels in sponsored academies have remained below the average national level  although this is entirely predictable given that the original sponsored academies were set up in areas of relative social deprivation
  • In any case there as significant differences in attainment levels as between individual  academies and between academy chains. The ARK and Harris chains have been especially successful but others have not.
  • There is evidence that although the main benefit od academisation is said to be increased individual school autonomy many academies are not actually modifying school practices very significantly
  • Insofar as attainment levels in sponsored academies are improving more rapidly this may be due to the fact that academy students have been entered disproportionately for “GCSE Equivalent” courses rather than actual GCSE courses. Attainment levels in sponsored academies tend to be much lower when only GCSE courses are considered.
  • Although the DfE argue that the rate of improvement in GCSE pass rates of pupils eligible for free school meals is faster in sponsored academies than in comparable non –academies this has been disputed by other analysts such as Henry Stewart.
  • It has been argued, most notably by O. Silva and S. Machin, that sponsored academies have done little to improve the attainment levels of pupils considered to be in the lowest 20% of the ability range.
  • There is evidence of strong improvement in non-academies suggesting that academisation  is certainly not the only route to school progress.
  • There are claims that high quality leadership, high quality teaching and sufficient capital resources are more important determinants of pupil progress.

With regard to Converter Academies the main conclusions of the Report are as follows

It is in general far too soon to assess whether academisation has led to increased pupil progress given that these schools have only experienced academisation for a maximum of four years.

The vast majority of Converter Academies were high performing schools , often with realtively socially advantaged intakes and so one would have expected continued improvement in such schools irrespective of academisation.


Academies, The Conservatives and the General Election

  • Not withstanding the conclusions of the Select Committee David Cameron has announced that if the Conservatives win the forthcoming General Election his Government intends to target “mediocrity” within the education by means of further expansion of academisation , a proposal which has quickly attracted criticism from educationalists.  Click here  and here for BBC coverage and here for Guardian coverage of Conservative plans for further mass academisation.

This concludes the section on Academies for the time being. There will be continuing controversies as to their effectiveness for the foreseeable future which you can follow in the press and broadcast media. For example you may click here the Guardian’s regularly updated archive of articles on Academies.


Academies in the News

  1. Click here for Independent article on a successful Academy run on "comprehensive lines"
  2. Click here for Independent article on alleged but contested examination grade inflation in an Academy

Free Schools

Click here for Free Schools Q and A  and here for  a BBC item for and against free schools and here for a critical item from the New Statesman and here for BBC coverage of a Conference for supporters of Free Schools and here for Observer coverage of Labour policy in relation to untrained teachers in Free Schools and Academies. Click here for an Independent article on the variety of Free Schools and here for a similar Guardian article. Click here for a BBC item indicating that Free Schools must adopt a scientific approach to the teaching of evolution. Click here for clip of BBC Andrew Marr interview with new Labour Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt

The setting up of Free Schools was proposed in the Conservative Manifesto of 2010 and given approval in the Academies Act of 2010 which also paved the way for existing state primary and secondary schools to become Academies. Free Schools are established as Academies independent of Local Authorities and with increased control of their curriculum, teachers' pay and conditions  and the length of the school day and terms. They may be set up by groups of parents , teachers, businesses, universities, trusts and religious and voluntary groups but are funded by central government. Note also that several Free Schools have been set up by chains which already run several Academies and that some Free Schools have transferred from the Private to the State sector.

21 Free Schools were set up in September 2011, 55 in 2012 and 102 are to open in 2013 and as of June 2013 81 are open [BBC]

The New Schools network has been set up as a charity with government funding to advise groups wishing to set up Free Schools and such groups are also very likely to contract an Education Provider to deliver the educational services necessary for the running of the schools although such education providers are not currently allowed to make a profit out of the running of the schools.

The Government's decision to fund the setting up or Free Schools can be seen as an important aspect of its general support for the operation of a quasi-market in education. Thus it is argued that in localities where parents or teachers or other groups believe that the local authority schools are unsatisfactory they will now have the opportunity to set up Fee Schools and that increased competition between the new Free Schools and existing local authority schools will drive up overall educational standards as has occurred , according to the Government, in Sweden where such a system is in operation. Furthermore the UK Government claim that the introduction of Free Schools will increase equality of educational opportunity for disadvantaged pupils currently being taught in under-performing local authority schools. [However, as is indicated in some of the links critics argue that the UK Government's interpretation of the Swedish experience with Free Schools is not entirely accurate.

The UK Government's case in favour of Free Schools is essentially that the operation of the quasi -market will drive up average educational standards and that disadvantaged pupils will benefit from this but the scheme has also been subjected to substantial criticisms as listed below.

  1. It is claimed that they will be set up disproportionately in affluent neighbourhoods and that they may attract "better" teachers from local authority schools
  2. They may be set up in areas where local authority schools are already undersubscribed thus wasting resources.
  3. They may attract the better performing pupils from local authority schools thereby undermining them
  4. The combined effects of points 1-3 may be that they lead gradually to the development of a two-tier education system.
  5. There is a danger that although Free School Education Providers are not currently allowed to make a profit this condition could be relaxed in the future leading to the indirect privatisation of parts of the education system.
  6. Free Schools do not need to employ qualified teachers [which to some extent negates points 1, 3 and 4 above.
  7. They may give too much freedom to faith based schools or fundamentalist agendas although the UK Government point out that safeguards ensure that  such schools must teach a broad and balanced curriculum and that creationism must not be taught as a valid scientific theory

Click here for  a BBC item for and against free schools which provides further very useful information relating to the above 7 points.

Click here for BBC coverage of critical OFSTED report on Muslim Free School

Click herehere and here for BBC coverage of possible Coalition conflicts over Free Schools and Academies

Click on the following links for  additional information

Click here and here and here and here and here for further information from the BBC .

Click here and here for items from the Daily Telegraph .

Click here for Labour Policy on Free Schools and Academies

Click here for Guardian information on Harris Academies [outstanding mostly secondary schools but not so primary schools]

Click here and here and here and here for BBC coverage and here and here for Independent coverage of possibilities that Academies and Free Schools might in the future be run for a profit

Update September  2020 : Academies 2015 -2020: Some Useful Links

Click here for the Guardian Education Academies Page

Click here for data on number of Academies in primary and secondary sectors

Click here for comparison of GCSE Results 2019 in different schools

Click here and here  and here for off-rolling

Click here for The Great Academies School Scandal

Click here  and here  for Panorama programmes on Academies

Click here for Factories for Learning [Christy Kulz 2017] and here for a review of the study by Prof. Stephen Ball