Press release

Academies use freedoms to innovate and improve standards

A trio of reports show the academies programme is working.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

students raising coloured cards in class

The majority of academy headteachers say they have seen results improve after leaving local authority control, a new survey has found.

More than 700 academies, open as of May 2013, responded to the survey which showed for the first time the range of ways they are using their freedoms to innovate and improve - including by varying the curriculum or changing term time dates.

The survey also revealed how previously failing schools had seen the demand for places at their schools rise after they were taken over by strong sponsors.

Do academies make use of their autonomy?

The Do academies make use of their autonomy?’ survey was published on the same day as 2 other reports that showed how academies working in groups outperformed their council-run counterparts.

Of the schools surveyed:

  • two thirds (65%) said results had either substantially or moderately improved since they became an academy
  • more than half of all sponsored academies (two thirds of secondary sponsored) said they had seen a rise in first choice applications since becoming an academy
  • more than two thirds (72%) all academies now support schools they did not work with while under local authority control

A Department for Education spokesman said:

Academies take power away from politicians and bureaucrats and hand it to the heads and teachers who know their pupils best. This survey shows how academies are embracing their new freedoms in order to drive up standards and improve opportunities for their pupils.

Previously failing schools are more in demand since becoming academies and the vast majority of academy heads feel their results have improved overall. Freed from council control, academies are also more likely to collaborate with other local schools to share their expertise and improve attainment.

Improving our education system is an essential part of our long-term economic plan to build a better future for Britain.

The main reasons schools chose to convert were to raise educational standards and to gain greater freedom to spend their budgets on improving standards. All funding for academies goes directly to heads to spend directly on education - in the past local authority schools saw as much as 10% of their budget held back by their local council.

The survey also found that academies have made a wide range of changes since converting or becoming sponsored including:

  • three quarters have changed or plan to change the curriculum they offer
  • almost three quarters have formalised collaboration arrangements with other schools or plan to
  • almost 9 in 10 academies have procured services previously provided by their local authority from another source
  • almost 1 in 10 academies has already changed their term dates, or plans to, to suit the needs of their parents and pupils

Academy heads also used the survey to explain how the ethos of their schools have changed since leaving local authority control.

One said:

The culture and climate has become even more clear; we are here for the children, not to please a local authority or play their political games.

All are clear that we are autonomous within the legal parameters and this is now a locally owned and run school for local families… For the first time, we now have 100% focus on our children; it is liberating.

Another said:

It is wonderful (although it is very hard work). I could never go back to working in a local authority school because I would feel stifled by the lack of creativity there.

I feel like I can actually get on with my job rather than following the direction set by someone else.

Academies annual report

Alongside the results of the ‘Do academies make use of their autonomy?’ survey, 2 other reports - also published today - show how academy schools working in partnership tend to outperform those working individually.

The ‘Academies annual report: academic year 2012 to 2013’ - which updates Parliament on developments of the academies programme - found that academy sponsors in particular were seeing big improvements in 2013:

  • Outwood Grange Academies trust saw the proportion of pupils at its 4 sponsored academies achieving 5 or more GCSEs at A* to C, including English and maths, increase by 9.3 percentage points
  • the 5 sponsored academies sponsored by Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust saw an average improvement of 4.8 percentage points
  • the 4 Aldridge Foundation sponsored academies schools saw an annual improvement of 12.9 percentage points

However across all state-funded schools the rate of improvement has only been 1.8%.

The evolving education system

Another report - into the way the English education system is evolving - had similar findings.

The report, ‘The evolving education system in England’, is based on research by the Isos partnership and commissioned by the DfE. It found that many of the worries raised by local authorities about the growth of academies had proved unfounded.

The report showed:

  • thanks to the increased autonomy provided by the academies programme there are more school-led partnerships. The report stated that school leaders ‘welcomed’ the encouragement to lead school improvement through partnerships with strategic decision making shifting from local authorities to networks of schools.
  • evidence from previous studies shows these partnerships are linked to faster rates of improvement in schools. The report stated that sponsor-led academy chains and multi-academy trusts (MATs) can offer opportunities to develop innovative and effective new approaches to teaching, leadership and training; and
  • school leaders are more confident they know how to access the support they need with 95% of those surveyed saying they agreed or strongly agreed that they could get assistance if required

Notes to editors

  1. Read ‘Do academies make use of their autonomy?’ research survey.
  2. Read the ‘Academies annual report: academic year 2012 to 2013’.
  3. Read ‘The evolving education system in England’ research report.

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Published 9 July 2014