This is a type of school, publicly funded but divorced from local authority control. Ultimately, they are responsible to the Education Secretary in London. This means that in reality they are administered and overseen on a day-to-day basis, by a group of unelected people who can, if they wish, vary hours and working conditions for staff. They are sponsored by local universities or businesses and often are part of a ‘chain’ run by a charity set up for that purpose. Some chains are beginning to resemble local authorities in size, though not located in specific geographical areas. It makes sense to band together to achieve economies of scale when purchasing resources and also to provide mutual support. However, local authorities provided these benefits as well. Questions have been raised in some cases about conflicts of interest between directors of the overarching charities and companies which provide services.
Schools which opt to become academies (originally just those which had achieved ‘Outstanding’ at their last OFSTED inspection but since extended to those who achieved a ‘Good’) receive in addition to their capitation based on pupil numbers, a ‘slice’ of the money which local authorities retain for centrally provided services such as legal support, payroll etc. How this amount is calculated is clearly crucial and it can be readily seen that once a ‘critical mass’ of schools in a local authority go ‘academy’ the centrally provided services become too expensive to manage.
The process of becoming an academy does not require any kind of ‘vote’ in the local area and can be achieved by a simple vote of the existing governing body. In many cases, if the Head and Chair of Governors are in favour, it will happen. There is a vague requirement to ‘consult’.
Academies were introduced by New Labour as a means of supporting schools which were judged to be ‘failing’. Sponsors included those with a religious bent, such as a christian fundamentalist ‘creationist’ car dealership, were brought in and given a disproportionate say in the curriculum. Labour since the 2010 election has found it hard to oppose Michael Gove’s drive towards academisation of the school system because he seems to have been simply extending one of Labour’s good ideas. Academies were not a good idea under Blair and they are an even worse idea under Gove who seems to be convinced that the only way of improving schools is to tear them away from local authority support (he would call it ‘control’ though LAs haven’t had much control over schools for years) and let ‘market forces’ run riot. For those of us who oppose Gove and what he is doing this is a fundamental divide. However well ‘market forces’ operate on the High Street or on the international oil market or whatever, we believe that public services are different.
This creeping privatisation (or marketisation) of the state school sector has been on the agenda for many decades. It began in the Eighties with Baker and Thatcher introducing first City Technology Colleges and then Grant Maintained schools (‘opting out’) although these at least required a formal vote of the parents. The notion seems to have long persisted in the Conservative mind that schools would be run much better by anybody but teachers and local councillors.
If you are particularly concerned about academies, visit the website of the Anti-Academies Alliance: http://antiacademies.org.uk/