A report released in the New Year by the Academies Commission has proposed that some of the new generation of academy schools maybe using de facto selection methods to affect their respective intakes to the favour of their results and performance. There is no doubt that there have been some great success stories amongst the raft of new schools that have converted to academy status in the last few years but is there a question over how these results have been obtained and whether they are a true reflection of performance? The first installment of this article recaps what academy schools are and when selective admissions are permitted.
What are Academy Schools?
Academy Schools were introduced as City Academies by the Labour government in 2000 with the aim of transforming the fortunes of failing city secondary schools in England by providing them with the freedoms of self governance together with the ability to team with partners from the public and private sectors who have experiences of delivering success in their respective fields. In July 2010, the current coalition government embraced and grew the academy project passing the Academies Act passed shortly after the start of its term. The act opened up and promoted the possibility for all schools to apply for academy status and as a result there are now 2,619 currently operating in England.
At the heart of their definition is the idea that academies are schools which continue to receive funding from central government – the same funding per head as a traditional state school would receive via the local education authority (LEA) – but they are free from the control of said local education authorities. Therefore, they have the freedom to determine how the school is run to a significant extent; namely, how those funds are allocated on school resources (including staff pay), the length of the school day and the dates of school terms, uniforms, how the school is structured and, most importantly, what and how they teach as they are not required to follow the national curriculum fully. However, despite being afforded many of the freedoms of privately run schools, academies are still defined as state schools due to their funding and as such are subject to Ofsted inspections and are prohibited from charging fees.
The Rules Concerning Selection
Schools that convert to academy status can continue to use selection processes such as the 11 plus if they did so before their conversion. Many Grammar schools for example that were previously run under the grant maintained scheme, which also gave them autonomy from local government control but access to central government funding, found a natural fit with the academy structure and so made the conversion. These schools exist on the principle of providing tailored education to the highest achievers irrespective of their social background and so relied on using the 11 plus to select these children and can continue to do so following their switch to academies.
State schools that convert to academy status and that do/did not implement any selection criteria as LEA controlled schools, cannot subsequently become selective in their admission however, because this would undermine one of their stated aims, to drive up academic standards throughout their local communities.