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There is more variety of educational establishments in England now compared to when we were our child’s age. That means there's a lot more to understanding the English education landscape now than ever before.

To help you stay informed about where you might apply for a place for your child, we have put together some guidance. If you’ve wondered how academies differ from state-funded secondary schools, this overview should help to put you in the picture.  

In a nutshell: what exactly is an academy?

Academies are publicly-funded independent schools. That means they receive finances directly from government. As a result, the Local Authority (LA) in the area doesn’t have a say on how individual academies use their funding. Academies are non-selective, so anyone can apply for a place for their child. Some academies specialise in particular academic fields, such as science or the performing arts. 

When did academies first appear?

Tony Blair’s New Labour government created academies as part of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 in a bid to tackle poorly-performing schools. The Academies Act 2010 was introduced by the coalition government led by David Cameron which enabled all schools (including primary and special schools) to become academies, in order to increase the numbers. Since then, thousands more academies have been founded, and many schools have converted to gain academy status. There was even talk of turning all schools into academies under the current Conservative government, but for the moment that is no longer their aim. 

Why is academy status beneficial for my child's education?

The government’s idea was to give schools more freedom and flexibility over what they teach and how they manage their accounts, and to cut bureaucracy. The intention was to drive up academic standards. The relative autonomy, compared to LA-funded state schools, was attractive to many schools as well as to those looking to establish new schools, and consequently there has been a sharp increase in the number of academies since 2010.

What are the differences between academies and other state-funded schools?

  • Academies don't have to follow the national curriculum (a set of subjects taught by teachers and standards set for children's attainment used by primary and secondary schools so that no matter which school a child attends, they will learn the same things). This means that academies can specialise in particular academic areas, but they still have to offer a broad education.  
  • They are still funded by the government, but the money goes directly to them rather than via the LA. With other state-funded schools, the LA apportions money to schools and has a say over how budgets may be spent and when schools receive their funding.  
  • Staff is managed by the academy trust rather than by the LA, giving academies more independence over recruitment.    

What are the similarities between academies and other state schools?

Academies remain subject to the rules on admissions for places, special educational needs (SEN) and exclusions.

Reviewed: January 2018

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