City academies

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Mossbourne Community Academy, the controversial successor to Hackney Downs School. (October 2005)
Since 2000, "Academy" in England can mean a type of secondary school which is independent but publicly funded and publicly run. As such, Academies are outside the control of the Local Authorities in which they are situated. This type of school was known as a City Academy for the first few years but the term was changed to "Academy" by an amendment in the Education Act 2002 [1].

City Academies were legally created by the Learning and Skills Act 2000 [2], which amended the section of the Education Act 1996 relating to City Technology Colleges [3]. They were first announced in a speech by David Blunkett, then Secretary of State for Education and Skills, in 2000 [4]. One of the major architects of the policy was Andrew Adonis in his capacity as education advisor to the Prime Minister (now Lord Adonis, a junior Minister at the Department for Education and Skills) in the late 1990s.

Academies are intended as a method of dealing with the problem of historic and entrenched failure of schools in England that do not achieve academically (or in areas of little educational aspiration). Whilst still in the fairly early stage of development (with 46 Academies open and only three for more than four years) the emerging evidence so far is positive with substantial rises in attainment results at KS3 and GCSE occurring each year. Academies are currently subject to an independent five-year evaluation by the consultancy PriceWaterhouseCoopers who have to date published three annual reports consisting of both 'hard' and 'soft' data concerning the open Academies. In the Department for Education and Skill's Five Year Strategy (published in 2004) the Government committed to there being 200 Academies open or in development by 2010.[5] At September 2006, 46 academies were open with another 48 planned to open in 2007.

Features of an Academy

Academies are established in a way that is intended to be 'creative' and 'innovative' to give them the freedoms considered necessary to deal with the long term issues they are intended to solve. Each Academy has a private sponsor who can be an individual (such as Sir David Garrard, who sponsors Business Academy Bexley) or an organisation, such as the United Learning Trust or Amey PLC. They are intended to bring 'qualities of success' to the school, again to help it change the long-term trend of failure of the school the Academy replaces. Academies that have already demonstrated stong success are the City Academy, Bristol and Mossbourne Academy in Hackney.

In return for an investment of 10% of the Academy's capital costs (or £2m, whichever is less), the sponsor is able to input into the process of establishing the school including its curriculum, ethos, specialism and building (if a new one is being built), and the power to appoint governors to the Academy's governing body.

Academies typically replace an existing (predecessor) school, although some are newly established. The remainder of the capital and running costs are met by the state in the usual way for UK state schools through LA funded grants. Academies can select up to 10% of pupils by aptitude in a way similar to Specialist Schools (although very few of them exercise this ability). Although they are independent they have to have regard to the same code of practice of admission as maintained schools, and so cannot select beyond the 10% aptitude rule. Academies are not bound to follow the National Curriculum (another freedom to innovate), although they still participate in the Key Stage 3 and GCSE exams as other English schools (which effectively means they teach a curriculum very similar to maintained schools, with small variations).

In terms of their governance, Academies are established as companies limited by guarantee with a Governing Body that acts as a Trust, the governors also acts as the Trust's Board of Directors (they are legally accountable for the operation of the Academy, but not financially so). The Trust serves as the legal entity which the school element is part of and the Governing Body is the group that actually oversees the running of the school (although the day to day management of the school is, as in most schools, conducted by the principal and their senior management team).


Academies are considered controversial and the policy questioned from their inception, both politically and educationally. Even after several years of operation and with a number of Academies open and reporting successes there are frequently calls made in the media and education sector to either scrap the programme or radically reduce it. The Academy policy is often attacked for creating schools that are (for example) a waste of money, selective, a negative impact on the schools and communities around them, forced on parents who do not want them and a move towards privatisation of education by "the back door". The truth of the matter is often difficult to ascertain with many sections of the media and education sector dogmatically negatively presenting one side of the argument and the government staunchly defending the policy with little call for debate.

The House of Commons Education & Skills Select Committee reported in March 2005 that it would have been wiser to limit the programme to 30 or 50 academies in order to evaluate the results before expanding the programme, and that "the rapid expansion of the Academy policy comes at the expense of rigorous evaluation."[6] This view is also held by the Liberal Democrats who stated in their 2005 election manifesto that they would suspend the creation of any new Academies if they came to power (although they did not commit to abolishing the programme).

The committee was concerned that the good results achieved by some Academies may be because they excluded harder to teach pupils and reduced the proportion of those from deprived backgrounds, whom they were intended to serve. They noted two Middlesbrough Academies had expelled 61 pupils, compared to just 15 from all other secondary schools in the borough, and in one Academy the number of pupils entitled to free school meals had fallen to 47% compared to nearly 60% at its predecessor school.

The programme of creating Academies has also been heavily criticised by some for handing schools to private sector entrepreneurs who in many cases have no experience of the education sector - most famously, the Evangelical Christian car dealer, Sir Peter Vardy, who has been accused of promoting the teaching of creationism alongside macroevolution in two academies he sponsors in Gateshead and Middlesbrough (the latter being The King's Academy). This is also linked to the wider debate in the education sector as to the benefits or otherwise of the growing role of religion in the school system being promoted by the New Labour government in general, and Tony Blair in particular, with many Academies being sponsored either by religious groups or organisations/individuals with a religious bias.

The past failings of the Unity Academy in Middlesbrough and the West London Academy in Ealing have been highlighted as indications that the programme is not wholly successful.[7] However since these claims were made, both schools have started to improve after intervention from the DfES, and West London Academy's recent OFSTED inspection commented on how much the school had improved in a very short space of time. It is also widely held that sponsors "run" or control Academies, although in reality this falls to the governing body and the principal (however the majority of the members of the governing body are initially chosen by the sponsor giving the sponsor a strong role in the direction that the school takes).

The programme has further been attacked for its expense: typically it costs on average £25m to build an Academy (more in London) much of which is taken up by the costs of new building. It is frequently cited that this is more than a new school although these comparisons are often drawn between the total cost of building an Academy including start up grant and all initial outlay, and the cost of a new school building for a maintained school. That said Academies are not cheap in real terms, although the Government and sponsors maintain that it is money well spent to help those that the Academies serve (namely disadvantaged and chronically low performing children in deprived areas).

In Newcastle upon Tyne the City's deprived West End is to see the replacement of West Gate Community College by Excelsior Academy. Its wealthy sponsor, Lord Irvine Laidlaw, lived as a tax exile in Monaco for almost two decades, thereby avoiding the payment of at least £50 million in UK taxes. He is now to receive £25 million from the Exchequer in order to fund this venture. Some observers on Tyneside have asked how many schools a UK based Laidlaw might have provided through normal payment of taxes, and are perplexed that this arrangement is not considered a national scandal.


The city academy programme was originally based on the programme of City Technology Colleges (CTCs) created by the Conservative government in the 1980s, which were also business-sponsored. One of the proposed city academies is Dixons CTC, once sponsored by the retailer Dixons. Currently the Government is encouraging CTCs to convert to Academies; several have already done so (for example, Djanogly CTC is now Djanogly City Academy). Academies differ from CTCs in several ways; most notably, Academies cannot select pupils (whereas CTCs can). Also, Academies are designed specifically to be part of the overall education provision in the areas in which they are built, and have consistently been stated as part of the wider strategy on education; CTCs were not built with local provision or need in mind and were mostly "parachuted" into areas with little thought as to the effect it would have on other schools.

In some respects comparisons may be drawn between city academies and US charter schools.

External links

National Audit Office report [8]

See also

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In England, City Technology Colleges (CTCs) are independent schools which charge no fees as their recurrent costs are borne by the Department for Education and Skills and private business sponsors.
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Key people Samuel DiPiazza, CEO

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Bexley Business Academy

Motto "No goal is beyond our reach"
Established 2002

Type City Academy, primary and secondary

Specialist status Business and enterprise
Location Erith
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The City Academy Bristol

Established 2003

Type Academy

Headteacher Ray Priest

Location Russell Town Avenue

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Mossbourne Community Academy (St. Bons on Tour) is a British state school which opened in 2004. It stands on the former site of Hackney Downs School, in the London Borough of Hackney on Downs Park Road.
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