Category Archives: Free schools


Too early to say?


The new duty on schools to secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance only began in September 2012 . The government believes that  it  important that sufficient time is allowed  for the duty to bed in before any firm conclusions  are drawn about the effectiveness of the new arrangements. Lord Nash recently indicated in the Lords (22 April) that ‘We are evaluating the impact of the new duty in a range of formal and informal ways.’

The Government have also commissioned Ofsted to carry out a thematic review of careers guidance, which will report this summer.

In addition, according to Lord Nash,  the government is ‘publishing education destination measures to show the percentage of students progressing to further education or training in a school, further education or sixth form college, apprenticeship, employment or higher education institution. The measures provide us with evidence of how effective schools are in supporting pupils to move successfully into the next phase or their education or into sustainable work, including through the provision of independent careers guidance.’

Ministers and officials meet and correspond regularly with a range of stakeholders on issues relating to the delivery of careers provision in schools, says Lord Nash, which is true, but Ministers are not taking on board what stakeholders and the experts are telling them. No independent report from a reputable source on government reforms to careers advice and guidance in schools has endorsed government policy in this area and international evidence suggests that school based advice  is the least effective (see the research from  Professor Tony Watts and OECD). There are grave concerns  too that  only limited access to face to face advice  is being offered to pupils which may have a negative effect on  the social mobility, access, skills and inclusion agendas. Evidence suggests that the most appropriate form of  advice for  disadvantaged pupils is face to face advice from an independent fully qualified  professional.

The government defends its policy by saying that it trusts in school autonomy. Schools themselves must make these decisions. But schools are not as autonomous as the government would have us believe. The government through its individual funding agreements with academies, for example, prescribes what schools have to do in certain areas . And if schools believe that they are autonomous when it comes to the way they use their extra funding for disadvantaged pupils, through the pupil premium, then they ought to look  very carefully at recent speeches from the schools minister,  David Laws and  Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted.

Lord Nash  is confident that the government has  detailed enough  evidence ‘relating to the effectiveness of school-based careers guidance to  inform future improvements in the quality of provision,’ while concurrently telling us that there is not yet enough evidence  to gauge  whether the new school- based  service has bedded in. You dont need to be a rocket scientist to work out that schools, under budgetary pressure, will go for, the most part, for  the cheapest option, and that is not face to face advice.

It will be particularly interesting to see what Ofsted has to say in its thematic review. However, there are no plans to make a specific graded judgement on the quality of careers guidance in respect of the school inspection framework and the common inspection framework.



Schools meet the costs of careers guidance from their overall budgets. Information on the amount spent by schools on careers guidance is not collected centrally



Ofsted currently has no explicit powers to inspect academy chains

But much will be expected from Chains


Sir Michael Wilshaw told the Select Committee recently (13 February) that he thinks Ofsted should have powers to inspect Academy chains . He also believes the DfE has accepted the need for this. Indeed he doesn’t see why Academy chains shouldn’t be subject to some sort of performance table as LAs are. Wilshaw said “We should inspect academy chains as well to make sure it’s equitable with LAs. I’ve made that clear to the Secretary of State  and it’s been accepted”

David Laws, the schools Minister of State, in a PQ on 10 April, said ‘Ofsted does not have an explicit power to inspect groups to which academies belong but has a duty (section 5 of the Education Act 2005) to inspect individual schools and a power (section 8 of the Education Act 2005) to inspect individual schools outside of normal inspection schedules. Ofsted may therefore take a view on the support and challenge provided by an overarching body during an individual school inspection.’

In short, academy chains will have to demonstrate in future that they add value in educational terms. It should also be remembered that Ofsted will, in future,  be looking carefully at how schools narrow the achievement gap. In his 5 March 2013, speech David Laws said “Ofsted is also doing much more to hold schools to account for closing the attainment gaps. Solid overall attainment is no longer enough to secure a “Good” or “Outstanding” classification, if there are large performance gaps. The Chief Inspector for Schools and I both agree that a school simply cannot be regarded as “Outstanding” if it is failing its disadvantaged pupils, and he will look at this when he next revises the inspection framework.”


Balance of evidence  finds  Academies have only small beneficial effects on pupil performance


The latest research from Stephen Machin and Olma Silva from the Centre for Economic Performance asks two basic  questions – does school autonomy work? And does it offer scope to improve the lot of disadvantaged students ie those  in the lower tail of the education distribution? Their conclusion is probably not, or at least not in England . They write ‘ Whilst there is a paucity of robust and coherent evidence to draw upon, it does not seem  unreasonable to say that, on balance, the evidence that does exist at best shows only small beneficial  effects on overall pupil performance and very little consistent evidence of improvements for tail  students.’

They find little evidence that academies up to 2009, helped pupils in the bottom 10% and 20% of the ability distribution. Furthermore, they find little  evidence that late converters (2008 and 2009) had any beneficial effects on pupils of any  ability. The authors conclude their research by comparing the experience of UK academies to that of  US charter schools and Swedish free schools, and by providing some insights into the reasons  why UK academies did not serve ‘the tail’ as is the case for some US charter schools.(the implication here is that charter schools because they have a  performance contract ( ie the charter) are held more directly accountable for performance than are  academy schools)

In conclusion the authors say ‘ it may be that in the longer run the best academies will flourish and spread their  practices across the education market in a tide that lifts all boats and so raises the achievement of  pupils of all abilities. However, in order to guarantee that these more autonomous institutions can  make a difference for the tail, new ‘rules of the game’ should be designed to make sure that schools  have incentives to focus on the most disadvantaged student and, at the same time, are held  accountable for their improvements.’

School Structure, School Autonomy  and the Tail Stephen Machin and Olmo Silva-Centre for Economic Performance- March 2013

Note. The new Pupil Premium is supposed to provide an incentive for schools  to target the  most disadvantaged pupils and to close the achievement gap ,although the challenge is to use this  extra money on interventions that work. One reliable source tells me that technology companies are seeking to persuade schools that the Pupil Premium is best invested in new computers and  education software, although I can find no evidence to  back the  claim that computers improve the performance of the most disadvantaged pupils.Tackling the long tail of underachievers  remains the biggest challenge  in education. One hopes and trusts that Ofsted will  keep a close eye on how schools  use these  extra funds.


Strong statistically significant results for KIPP students that are better than their peers


As of the 2012–2013 school year, 125 KIPP schools are in operation in 20 different states and the District of Columbia (DC). Ultimately, KIPP’s goal is to prepare students to enrol and succeed in college.

KIPPs approach is different. It is particularly keen on  structured,  ‘meaningful’  approaches to character development in its schools This is rooted in the research of Dr. Martin Seligman (Universityof Pennsylvania) and  Dr. Chris Peterson (University of Michigan) that identifies 24 character strengths as leading to engaged, meaningful, and purposeful lives. Its not just about academic attainment. Resilience  and character matter even more, if students are to succeed in education and life.

There is a research partnership between KIPP NYC and Dr. Angela Duckworth (University of Pennsylvania), KIPP which informs the focus on seven highly predictive strengths: zest, grit, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity. They have integrated their own experiences as teachers with the research of Seligman, Peterson, and Duckworth to create a road map for the development of each strength.  So KIPP schools seek to see how they  can integrate a more structured and measurable approach to character development.

Prior research has suggested that KIPP schools have positive impacts on student achievement, but most of the studies have included only a few KIPP schools or have had methodological limitations.

This is the second report of a national evaluation of KIPP middle schools being conducted by Mathematica Policy Research. The evaluation uses ‘experimental and quasi-experimental methods to  produce rigorous and comprehensive evidence on the effects of KIPP middle schools across the  country. The study’s first report, released in 2010, described strong positive achievement impacts in maths and reading for the 22 KIPP middle schools for which data were available at the time.  This most recent  study, conducted by Mathematica,  is  the most rigorous research yet on KIPP schools  and  shows that the Knowledge Is Power Program, provides a significant learning boost to middle school students in multiple subjects. It also found that while KIPP serves more low-income students than public school peers, it serves fewer special education students and English language learners. The report states ‘The average impact of KIPP on student achievement is positive, statistically significant, and educationally substantial. KIPP impact estimates are consistently positive across the four academic subjects examined, in each of the first four years after enrolment in a KIPP school, and  for all measurable student subgroups’.   Three years after students enroll in KIPP schools, they had 11 more months of maths knowledge than their peers, according to the study. The research showed KIPP students had eight more months of reading knowledge, 14 more months of science knowledge, and 11 more months of social studies knowledge.  Charter schools are publicly funded, but can be privately run. KIPP is one of the best known chains. KIPP schools often feature a longer school day, carefully selected teachers, a strict discipline code, parental contract, and teachers available to parents after school hours.  The Mathematica study accounted for the common critique that KIPP’s results are skewed because the school attracts the kids of highly-motivated parents, said Philip Gleason, who directed the research. In 13 of the 43 schools Mathematica investigated, the firm compared KIPP students with children who entered the KIPP lottery, but did not receive slots in KIPP schools. The researchers said the positive results held steady for the KIPP students. The study did find though that KIPP’s ‘behavioural’ modifications contributed to academic performance. KIPP schools that reported a “comprehensive” approach toward behaviour saw greater positive effects than schools that did not.  But ‘KIPP has no statistically significant effect on a variety of measures of student attitudes  that may be related to long-run academic success. The estimated KIPP impacts on  indices of student-reported self-control, academic self-concept, school engagement,  effort/persistence in school, and educational aspirations are not statistically significant.’  KIPP schools that had a longer than average school day had smaller positive effects on student performance. The report says this might be because the KIPP schools with longer days than others often focused their extended hours on non-academic areas.  KIPP students do from 35 minutes to 53 minutes more nightly homework than their peers, yet reported they were more satisfied with school than peers, according to the study.

KIPP Middle Schools:  Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes  Final Report- February 27, 2013- Christina Clark Tuttle Brian Gill Philip Gleason Virginia Knechtel Ira Nichols-Barrer Alexandra Resch


Charter schools are the fastest-growing sector of public education, taking root in most U.S. states, thanks to a big push by the education reform lobby and the federal government’s  ‘Race to the Top’ competition.  One of the defining features of  Charter schools is that they operate on the basis of a  ‘charter’, i.e. a performance contract granted for three to five years, defining the school’s mission and goals,  as well as the type of students it aims to attract. Charter schools are then held accountable to their  sponsor (for example a local school board), which assesses whether these stated aims have been  achieved and – if not – eventually revokes the charter.


New book argues for proper competition and incentives to improve quality within the education system


Gabriel Sahlgren, the head of research at the pro-market  CMRE think tank, launched his new book ‘ Incentivising Excellence: school choice and education quality’  this week. He argues that there is much evidence that competition works in education but that  when politicians    introduce  competition to schools systems it is always limited  and hedged and rarely   has  meaningful  incentives in place to improve outcomes.Certain conditions have to exist before competition can work to deliver improved outcomes. These conditions are often ignored or exist only in part.    More  often than not  incentives  are unrelated to quality . Vouchers can and do work but they must be differentiated and well targeted in order, for example, to help disadvantaged pupils.   There is much evidence that autonomy works but it must be embedded within a high quality accountability framework. He wants competition between schools but collaboration between teachers .  He said  there is evidence that the initial academies have improved outcomes but overall progress has not ,to date ,been particularly significant, partly because academies have limited autonomy and partly because of limited incentives within the system.Failing schools dont close and outstanding schools rarely expand to meet demand. Profit making schools are important to drive systemic improvement. There is little evidence that Swedish reform would successfully have increased competition and educational attainment without the profit motive. This is something the UK government should learn from he says.  Sahlgren noted that Sweden’s recent relative decline in Pisa ratings has nothing to do with introducing competition. Indeed   competition has actually ensured that Swedens decline is less than it would otherwise have been. Sweden’s problem is that it has very weak accountability measures and poor on-going  information on  schools and student performance, compounded by changes in teaching practice that focus more on group teaching and learning than the needs of individual learners.

Sahlgren wants, among other things , to see a major pilot for vouchers, as well as  profit making schools operating  within the state system. Parents  could be given a voucher for the cost of their childs education in a state school ie just over £5,200 pa in a secondary school (£4,100 pa- Primary). If parents shop around then some schools may fail but that is a price that has to be paid if competition is to benefit the system overall.


An innovative way of financing education is via cash transfers to schools based on enrolments or by providing cash to families to purchase schooling – in other words- through vouchers. It is often assumed that those who promote vouchers are from the libertarian right. Some may be, of course,  but there are many on the left of the political spectrum   who like the idea of targeted vouchers, specifically  to help the most disadvantaged pupils  to gain access to good  public schools. It is often forgotten that in the USA one major  vouchers supporter is   Michelle Rhee, a Democrat, who  was a reformist  chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools from 2007 to 2010.


The Academies Act 2010 granted academy trusts exempt charity status, making them exempt from registration with and primary regulation by the Charity Commission, from 1 August 2011.  The definition of an exempt charity is one that is  ‘ not regulated by and cannot register with, the Charity Commission.’  So, they have this status because they are regulated by some other body. The Secretary of State for Education is now the principal regulator of academies and oversees their compliance with both charity and education law. But the education secretary has handed over the role of funding distribution and compliance for academies to the Education Funding Agency, which is an executive agency of the DFE.  The Academy Trust signs an agreement (The Funding Agreement)  with the Secretary of State , and so is accountable to the Secretary of State, not the local authority.Indeed independence from local authority control and bureaucracy has been  regarded as one of the attractions of academy status.

But what happens if an academy, autonomous from the LA,  is under performing or failing? This is an area where local authorities in the past have played an  important role, (some, of course,  more effectual  than others), in spotting early  potential problems.

Elizabeth Truss MP, the junior education minister, made it clear recently in a Commons question that  ‘ it is not the role of local authorities (LAs) to intervene in underperforming academies. Academies are autonomous from LAs and their performance is a matter for the Department through the Office of the Schools Commissioner. If a local authority (LA) has concerns about an individual academy, we expect the LA to raise these concerns with the Academy Trust in first instance. If the LA feels that the Academy Trust is failing to take sufficient action concerns can be raised with Ofsted or the Secretary of State.’

Two  questions then arise-if LAs no longer have the powers or budget to oversee academies, how are they, within an autonomous school system , supposed to spot potential problems with schools? And who, apart from Ofsted, is there to fill this  accountability gap?

The difficulty in giving a straight answer to both these questions explains why the debate continues on whether or not some form of  intermediate tier is required between the SOS and schools, as part of the ‘intelligent’ accountability framework.


Sir Michael  Wilshaw , the Chief Inspector,told the Education Select Committee  on 13 February that local authorities should be able to “identify under performance  in academies “They have a powerful part to play in local authority schools, those schools they control, and those outside their direct control,” Sir Michael said.“They identify under-performance in academies. They should be writing to the chair of governors and the sponsor of that academy and contacting the academy division at the department.”He also said that he wanted Ofsted to inspect academy chains and is in talks with the Secretary of State on this issue.



 Buildings a big problem but new proposals might help


The Think Tank Policy Exchange published a report in 2010  ‘ Blocking the Best Obstacles to new, independent  state schools ,co -authored by Rachel Wolf.

This report accurately examines the changes required to make an expanded programme of genuinely independent state schools a reality. The first part examines the barriers which prevent new providers entering the system, including a ponderous approval process and overly restrictive planning and building procedures. The second part looks at restrictions on academy independence which curb innovation, including bureaucratic and poorly-focused accountability mechanisms and interference by central and local government. The third part looks at interventions in cases of school failure.

There are two major constraints to the expansion of the Free schools initiative. First, a shortage of capital. Second, a shortage of appropriate buildings for these new schools. Some parents and charities looking to set up free schools have long  complained that suitable buildings are proving to be scarce, raising fears that Michael Gove’s revolution may lose more  momentum. (For example Katherine Birbalsinghs Free school bid in south London failed to find a suitable property and was delayed for a year).  But the other side of this coin is restrictive building regulations and planning laws that make setting up a new school something of a bureaucratic nightmare.  This report found that many of the building requirements which apply to schools are an unnecessary block on innovation and should be lifted from all schools. However, the authors said there is a key difference between the expectations of schools which children have to attend and the expectations of schools where parents make an active choice. In the former case, some basic minimum standards need to be mandated because parents cannot alter what is happening in any other way. In the latter case, if parents are happy with the conditions of a building (beyond basic health and safety) then that should be sufficient.   Schools which replace existing supply should be free from space and design regulations, but should still meet minimum requirements on acoustics, ventilation and lighting, the report concluded.

Eric Pickles,the Communities and Local Government Secretary has just announced (25 January 2013 ) that Free schools will be able to open in offices, hotels and warehouses without planning permission that will allow proposed free schools to speed through red tape.This will include rewriting planning laws to allow schools to open before they have received council permission to occupy their new buildings. They will have 12 months’ grace before requiring change-of-use approval.

Ministers argue that final planning permission is almost always granted but that too many would-be free schools — the Government’s signature education reform — are being snarled up in the lengthy application process. Mr Pickles will also loosen the rules on the type of building that free schools can convert, to include office buildings, hotels, theatres, hostels, shops and warehouses.

One issue, though, that might remain an obstacle is that Councils can object to a new school on the grounds of the effect it will have on local traffic. This is a sensible  caveat but could be used by Councils opposed to Free schools as a blocking measure.

The process of finding a site for a Free School has already, according to the government,  been sped up by the drive to cut red tape in the planning system. The following improvements are already in place:

Appeals from schools are treated as a priority.

National planning guidance has been slashed from thousands of pages to just 47.

Councils must give priority to the need for new school developments when considering planning applications.

These  earlier measures  were supposed to free up the process of finding suitable property, but clearly havent had the  desired  effect, otherwise these new measures would not have been necessary.


The Secretary of State said in a statement  (interalia) on 28 January:

It is my intention to include within the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (as amended):

‘a permitted development right allow for the temporary change of use to a new state-funded school from any other use class along with minor associated physical development. This will be for a single year which would cover the first academic year. It will provide certainty that a school opening will not be delayed by an outstanding planning application, but will not replace the need to secure planning permission for the use beyond that first year; and a permitted development right to allow change of use to a new state-funded school from offices (B1); hotels (C1); residential institutions (C2); secure residential institutions (C2A); and assembly and leisure (D2). Any subsequent change from a new state-funded school to other uses in non residential institution class (D1) will not be permitted. These changes will be subject to a prior approval process to mitigate any adverse transport and noise impacts.’

Separately a new estate agency-style website listing surplus Government properties, has been set up to make it easier for people who want to set up a Free School to search for and find sites. It launched today and shows more than 600 properties to rent and more than 140 to buy. The list will be updated as more properties become available or are claimed.



Academies and Free schools do not have to follow the national curriculum. But… and its quite a big but..

‘Academies must teach a broad and balanced curriculum’,  and there are a number of statutory and other requirements.

Key statutory requirements

 ‘Academies are required to have a broad and balanced curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils and prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.’

For pupils below key stage 1 (i.e. reception and nursery), academies are required to follow the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Summary of requirements under the funding agreement

While academies are not required to follow the National Curriculum they are required to ensure their curriculum:

includes English, maths and science;

includes Religious Education, although the nature of this will depend on whether the school has a faith designation;

secures access to independent, impartial careers advice for pupils in years 9-11; and

includes sex and relationship education (SRE).

Academies are required to take part in the following assessments:


Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (in reception);

Teacher assessments at Key Stage 1;

National tests at Key Stage 2;

Teacher assessments at Key Stage 3; and

All relevant monitoring arrangements as prescribed by the Secretary of State.


Are the curriculum requirements the same for all academies?

No. ‘Prior to September 2010, some funding agreements required academies to follow the National Curriculum Programmes of Study in English, maths and science (and in some cases ICT). We (DFE) will be writing to those academies to say that we will not enforce those contractual provisions.’

(I assume that the DFE has already  informed the relevant academies about this)

Source Academy Curriculum Fact Sheet, DFE, up dated December 2012


Remember,  Academies and Free schools are ‘autonomous’ in the sense that they have certain freedoms, over the curriculum, pay, etc  and are ‘freed’ from local authority bureaucracy but each school, nonetheless,  is subject to a Funding Agreement with the DFE . The funding agreements are essentially contracts between the Secretary of State and the organisation which establishes and runs the school ( ie ‘the academy trust’) . This varies between schools. So Academies are  still subject to central controls, and, of course, Ofsted inspections. Although Lord Adonis wanted the DNA of independent schools transferred to academies it would be something of a challenge  to argue that academies are as autonomous  or ‘free’ as independent  schools.  Could, for example, the Secretary of State object to the appointment of a governor in an independent school? I think not.

Academies are charities run by  an academy trust. But they are what is termed  ‘ exempt ‘charities. So , rather than being regulated by the independent Charities Commission  they are regulated  by the Secretary of  State . Indeed, the Secretary of State prescribes membership of the trustee body in some detail. So’“exempt” charities in this case  at least  may be  operating in an even more regulated and much  more highly politicised environment than is the case for conventional charities



Concerns emerging about lack of strategic oversight and democratic legitimacy


Research suggests that school autonomy is a good idea (OECD, World Bank, etc) but only if placed within a secure and robust accountability framework.

McKinsey research has shown that the highly successful school systems in the world have a middle tier, between central government and the individual school.

There is an on-going debate about how the government’s structural reforms, creating autonomous state schools (academies and free schools) have affected accountability. Academies  and free schools are basically accountable directly to the Secretary of State, through funding agreements (which vary) which are contracts with the Secretary of State .These  together with the academies financial handbook provide the accountability regime for all academies which includes the requirement to produce annual audited accounts. But can the SOS really hold so many schools directly accountable to him, given that over half secondary schools are now academies and there are going to be further cuts to his staff.

Meanwhile, the government argues that academy schools are ‘independent’ schools.  But how independent are they, if they are directly accountable to the SOS, (and the provisions of the funding agreement)? The SOS can ,if he sees fit, vet the appointment of an academy trustee. How would any normal charity feel (academies are ‘exempt’ charities) if a Minister could veto the appointment their trustees? Certainly academies are not as independent as private sector schools, including those with charitable  status (although academies are supposed to have inherited  their DNA!).

Critics point out that there is no middle tier that can help identify and support problem schools early on. Some say that academy chains help provide a middle tier. For schools in this situation, the headquarters of the chain has become the new middle tier.   But, of course, not all academies and free schools are part of a chain.

The latest contribution to this debate comes from Ron Glatter who is the emeritus professor of educational administration and management at the Open University and Susan Young is a freelance education journalist. In the Guardian (13 November)  they argue  that despite the growing power of central government, the dominant rhetoric has been about autonomy, independence and liberation from bureaucracy (read local authorities) and this focus has persisted and grown stronger over the years. The driving factors behind this include the commitment to free market ideology, England’s highly centralist constitution, and the symbolic power of the elite independent school sector.  But they say that ‘paradoxically, despite the persistent and growing emphasis on autonomy, most school practitioners consider themselves constrained by government requirements to a far greater extent than their forbears in 1975. Schools have many more responsibilities and the centre has been transformed from a trusting referee and resource provider to a demanding and impatient managing director with frequently changing identities and priorities.’

They conclude that ‘The biggest change since 1975 has been the progressive disempowerment of the intermediate tier of governance which international research has shown is a vital element in system improvement. This looks likely to result in a highly unstable framework, marginalising the community and local dimensions. Unsurprisingly, many schools appear to find the stand alone model uncomfortable and are clustering together in various groupings such as academy chains and co-operative trusts. From the point of view of pupils and their families, the likely collapse of any local strategic co-ordination and community governance could have serious consequences and raises major questions about democratic legitimacy. A key challenge in the next few years will be to create an effective and legitimate multi-level system of educational governance that is fit for purpose and can command the trust of the public and the profession.’  This requires addressing a question, they claim, that is as crucial and unresolved now as it was in 1975, and which has become even more pressing: “To whom should schools funded by the public purse belong?”

Local authorities believe that they should be this middle tier, again. But one of the key drivers behind the academies programme is the proposition that  schools were being stifled by local authority bureaucracy and interventions  and needed much greater freedom to manage their resources, as they saw fit.This is less ideology, than common sense. And, arguably, while local authorities provide accountability, in the sense that  councillors have to face periodic elections, (unlike their  officials) in rather too many cases  this has done little to improve schools under councils control. So this  ‘long accountability’ looks to be insufficient,  because  far too many children, and particularly the most disadvantage  have been let down.  There are other ways,  of course, to create this middle tier that might go some way to satisfying key stakeholders and which dont revert back to local authorities and the status quo ante. The Financial Times suggests that the middle tier role should be filled by regional commissioners, accountable to the local community and able to act on grievances quickly. The commissioners could also foster collaboration between academies: for example, by co-ordinating exchanges of teachers and organising training.

This  is   an important debate that will run and run.



Quality and genuine independence could ensure the Adonis academy legacy is sustained

But how independent are academies?


In his last speech, on 15 November, before stepping down after 22 years as chief executive of CfBT Education Trust, Neil McIntosh, expressed his concerns over possible threats to the Adonis legacy of Academy schools. Is  that legacy  secure?Could Academies disappear from the schools landscape?

Lord Adonis, the architect of the  original Academies programme,  had, in an  earlier speech  at the event (CFBTs AGM), testified to Neils influence  in helping to transform the supply side in education, thanking him for his support,( when Adonis  was the schools minister), in driving through  the academy reforms, and praised his  leadership in broadening the role of the third sector in the delivery of public services.

What Adonis was trying to do, as an adviser to Tony Blair and subsequently as the  schools Minister, Neil said ,was “ to accelerate the improvement of schools in England by enlisting the energy and resources of the private and Third sectors, what is often called, civil society, within a public service, not for profit framework.”

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, believes that the best way of protecting the Adonis legacy was ‘to maximise the number of Academies.”  True up to point, but insufficient, claimed Neil. He said “Its not so much about quantity as quality. If Academies fail to do much better than their predecessor schools they will be vulnerable to attack. And the more Academies there are, then the more likely there are to be failures. So ensuring quality, protects the legacy.”

The second threat, on the horizon, concerns the independence of academies. Just how independent are they?   Neil believes that only genuine independence will ensure their sustainability. He said “independent providers of a public service should be genuinely independent and that the constitutional form that they take should be able to stand the test of time”.

In a key passage in his speech Neil crystallised his worries about the current constraints on  Academy independence.

He said “Arguably we are developing a model in the education sector in which a new cadre of charitable organisations (Academies are Charities) are being created in a uniquely top down way, with many of the providers being, in effect, set up by government and being 100% dependent on one source of (government) funding. Moreover they are so-called ‘exempt’ charities, subject to a central government regulatory regime directed by a politician not the Charity Commission. That regime dictates the rules of governance even up to the Secretary of State (SoS) having the right to vet individual governors.”

He continued “Some of these new organisations are growing very fast, perhaps dangerously so given that they are often dependent to a disturbing degree on a key person, and that that one person has automatic right to be a trustee and may have no previous experience of running an independent organisation. And despite the supposed tight control of governance by the Secretary of State there is real cause for concern that the checks and balances between some of those high flying Heads and their governors are not robust enough. At their weakest, these are agencies which are independent in name only. And perhaps not even in that. This was highlighted, ironically, by both the PM and Michael Gove referring on a number of occasions last week to Academies as state schools. Independent state schools was Tony Blair’s preferred oxymoron.”

These developments, Neil believes, represent a threat to the integrity of the concept of charitable organisations but also demonstrate “the tendency in English education to adopt complex and opaque structures which fail to locate responsibility firmly and clearly and will, I believe, prove inadequate in the long term.”

So ,the  big danger for Academies is that, especially with the single Academy model (as opposed to the Academy chains), they could so easily be transmuted from their ‘independent’ status back to their old status as maintained schools.(he cited the example of how the  careers service companies, often run by  charities, were transmuted into Connexions partnerships and  look also at  what happened to GM schools)

Neil concluded “For my money, then, securing Andrew’s admirable legacy is a matter of encouraging the development of a growing number of highly effective non-government promoters of consistently high performing schools (like CFBT); not re-badging all schools or trying completely to replace entirely the delivery system for supporting maintained schools in England”


Before July 2010, all academies had to register with the Charity Commission. Academies became exempt charities on 1 August 2011. Exempt charity status means that they are not registered or directly regulated by the Charity Commission. DfE is now the ‘principal regulator’ of academies. It is responsible for overseeing their compliance with charity (as well as education) law. The Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA), which originally  funded  academies,  carried out this role on the  DfE’s behalf until March 2012 when it was  replaced by the Education Funding Agency