1 Academies' performance and achievements
1. The Academies Programme began in 2002, and was
originally designed to raise educational standards and aspirations
in deprived areas, often by creating academies that replaced schools
with long histories of under-performance. These original academies
are managed by charitable companies and governing bodies established
by sponsors. As at 5
January 2011, there were 271 'sponsored academies' in England.
2. The Programme has so far achieved substantial
success. Most sponsored
academies have seen increases in academic attainment for their
pupils compared with their predecessor schools. Although still
below the national average, the proportion of pupils gaining five
or more A*-C grade GCSEs or equivalent is improving at a faster
rate in academies than in maintained schools with similar intakes.
3. We took evidence from two representatives of sponsors,
the United Learning Trust (ULT) and Absolute Return for Kids (ARK).
They told us that the distinguishing feature of their academies
was the persistence and rigour with which they had secured the
changes known to drive improvement in educational attainment.
These changes included:
- high-quality leadership, through
which the sponsor helps to define and promote a strong ethos with
high expectations of pupils and staff;
- a relentless focus on standards by the academy's
senior team, to encourage academic engagement and in-depth learning,
coupled with close monitoring of pupils' progress;
- a curriculum offering subjects and qualifications
that reflect the needs and abilities of pupils; and
- creativity and innovation, including practical
measures such as a longer school day to provide more opportunities
for pupils to learn.
4. The experience of these sponsors taught them that
effective school leadership was vital where rapid progress was
needed to deal with past failures. Without it, problems could
quickly recur, in the form of, for example, pupil and staff dissatisfaction.
With a natural turnover of headteachers, large numbers of new
leaders are needed every year to cover the more than 20,000 state
schools in England. Potential shortages of outstanding leaders
in schools present a considerable risk to the future effectiveness
of the Academies Programme.
ULT also told us that it released some of its most promising leaders
to attend professional executive courses.
Where academies operated in clusters, it was possible for the
most talented leaders in a region to influence more academies.
Some similar collaborative arrangements operated in the wider
schools sector, and the Department was strongly encouraging academies
to partner with weaker schools.
5. The sponsors described their ambitions to create
clusters of academies, operating regionally and locally, for example
with community primary schools.
They were helped by a change in the attitude of local authorities,
which in recent times had generally cooperated well with academies.
Such collaboration was important educationally for the children,
as well as to support the career development of teachers.
The Department strongly supported further involvement in the Programme
by sponsors who could demonstrate a successful track record.
6. The main focus of the Programme has been to replace
underperforming secondary schools, though there are a small number
of 'all-age' academies that also cover the primary years. The
sponsor witnesses told us they typically saw large numbers of
children entering at age 11 with a reading age of 9 or less.
They could address this shortfall by focusing extra resources
in the first two years of secondary school, but this approach
was wasteful compared with what would be possible if children
had made the necessary progress earlier at primary school. For
this reason, some academies were looking to increase their involvement
in primary education, and develop models that could lead to more
effective secondary education. Though they had sometimes met resistance
from primary school governors where the academy's predecessor
school had had a poor reputation in the past, some local authorities
were now engaging in discussions on primary/secondary collaborations
with academy trusts.
2 C&AG's Report paras 1 and 1.2 Back
At the time of the hearing (27 October 2010), there were 267 sponsored
academies (Qq 77 and 78). Back
Qq 1,13-16, 18-19, 70 Back
C&AG's Report para 8 Back
Qq 1-13, 70-71 Back
Qq 51, 71-72 Back
Qq 81, 91-92; C&AG's Report para 3.8 Back
Qq 21 Back
C&AG's Report para 2.31; Qq 21, 52, 81-82, 91-92 Back
Qq 21-23, 29-30, 48, 52 Back
Q 30 Back
Qq 21, 29-30, 54, 81-82, 91-92 Back
Qq 72-73 Back
Q 10 and 29 Back
C&AG's Report para 2.31; Qq 29-30, 48, 52 Back