What are Academies? How do they differ from state schools?
Academies are schools that are funded by the government, but set up by private-interest groups, such as businesses, faith groups, or charities (often called ‘sponsors’). These groups then have control of the school, and can appoint a board of directors without including parents, teachers, or anyone that has been elected. This differs from state schools, which have a board of governors, including elected parents, teachers, and local councillors. Academies are basically state-funded, but can be run like a private school.
Academies can opt out of the national curriculum, although they are “required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum to include English, maths and science”. Academies have greater freedom in their admissions policies than state schools.
What are Free Schools? How do they differ from Academies?
Free schools are like Academies, but they are set up by local people and/or parents with a common idea about what kind of school they want, for example, if they want a local faith school in their area.
Are Academies worse or better than state schools?
There are many reasons to think the presence of Academies is bad both for the children attending those Academies as well as for children still attending state schools.
Exam results for Academies are mixed, although judging a school by exam results is flawed because how rich or poor the students attending that school are will effect the results, and exam results are often not a good measurement of learning anyway (see last section for a fuller explanation).
One problem with academies is that they are set up by businesses, and other vested interest groups. In some cases, these groups will have a lot of control of how the school is run. They will often not have children’s best interests at heart. Recently, it has been discovered that the majority of academies are selling products in vending machines that have been banned from state schools because they are so unhealthy. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg – businesses cannot be trusted to put people before profit, or education before profit. Even if Academies and Free Schools are not meant to overtly and directly make a profit, we can expect that businesses will have a business interest in becoming sponsors of academies.
However, during the Leveson Enquiry, Michael Gove announced that he was open to the idea that Free Schools could be run for profit in the future. This is not surprising, and it will be not surprising if it is the same for Academies.