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



  1. As a governor at a school in the CfBT Schools Trust – one which made the decision to join the Trust for the very reasons Neil outlined in his speech – I can say with complete conviction that his vision shows through in the Trust’s model, and that its schools are secure in their responsibility to earn autonomy and independence. Having recently met his successor, we are looking forward to receiving the same levels of trust and support.

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