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



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