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10 things you weren’t told about schools turning into academies

Academies are independent schools in England that are directly funded by the government, through the Department for Education.

In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of primary and secondary schools becoming academies, with figures reaching approximately 4,000 (as of November 2014); this is around 21% of all schools in England.

So what exactly is an academy? How does it differ from the schools we went to? And what does it mean to the parent, teacher and pupil?

2. SPONSORED ACADEMY VS. CONVERTER ACADEMY

There are two types of academies. Sponsored academies are schools that have been transformed and given academy status as part of a government intervention strategy to help underachieving schools. These academies have external sponsors, in the form of private companies, charities or universities, who work to establish governing bodies and help to make improvements in the running of the school.

A converter academy is a successful and well-maintained primary or secondary school that has applied to become an academy in order to benefit from the status that the label brings.

2. ACADEMY essentially means private

When a school opens as an academy, it means it is independent from direct control of the local authority. Academies will employ self-governing bodies, and these bodies, along with the head teacher, will make decisions for the academy - including decisions for staff, pupils and sometimes where parents are concerned.

3. the money

Schools get a grant of £25,000 towards conversion costs from the Department for Education. Additionally, some academies can potentially increase their budget by as much as 10%. This is because, in addition to the regular per pupil funding, schools are entitled to money which would have previously been held back by the local authority.

As academies are not under direct control of the local authority, they have freedom over their budgets and are not required to answer for the decisions they make with their funding.

Controlling figures of academies can decide on new pay and conditions for members of their staff. However, longstanding employees can have their national pay and conditions protected by TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006).

Academies can also individually make decisions on bonuses to include, or not include, in staff pay. With this freedom, academies can either have a lot of extra money on their hands, or be in losses after paying large sums in bonuses.

4. the power to change length of days and terms

With new freedoms, the length of school days and terms is decided by governing bodies that manage the academy. This can mean an increase or decrease in teaching time and can affect parents and staff when planning family holidays.

5. The NATIONAL CURRICULUM

Academies are not required to follow the national curriculum. It is the decision of each individual academy what they choose to teach in their own curriculum, as long as this is broad, balanced and includes subjects in English, mathematics and science.

6. LONGER HOURS FOR STAFF

Decisions can be made to expect staff to work from 7AM until 7PM, to spend two weeks of their summer holidays in school preparing for the new academic year and to work in school on weekends.

7. staff rights affected

Maternity, sick leave and other rights may potentially be changed with corresponding decisions made by governing officials.

Additionally, academies are independent from the national pay and conditions for teachers; this means if an issue of pay arises staff can find themselves unaccompanied by employees from other local schools.

New pay and conditions devised by the academy may not include provisions for Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA) time and does not need to cover leadership and management time, which could mean teachers will be expected to work on administrative tasks outside of their working hours for teaching.

All staff, whether of state schools or academies, are required to be members of a union. Whilst some academies will not recognise union rights for staff, most organisations will.

8. parental rights

Academies follow the same admissions code as conventional state schools, but academy trusts (formed by the governing body) become the admissions authority, rather than the local authority. This means, an academy can, like a faith school, set its own criteria for admissions if it is oversubscribed. Additionally, academies with specialisms are allowed to select up to 10% of their pupils on the basis of their ability in a particular subject area.

If parents are unhappy with decisions made by a school, they can complain to the local authority. However, if parents of a child that attends an academy have an issue that they have tried, and failed, to resolve with the academy trust, they must complain to the Secretary of State for Education.

Whilst academies are not allowed to charge fees for pupils who attend, parents may find themselves paying for additional costs if academies decide to change school uniforms, or charge for certain activities and/or use of resources.

9. accountability

Academies, whilst independent, are subject to inspections made my national school regulator, Ofsted. The Department for Education will publish the academies’ exam results and other data, in the same way it has done for conventional schools. Academies are directly accountable to the Secretary of State for Education, unlike other state schools that are accountable to elected local authorities.

10. no going back

A school can apply to become an academy through no formal or legal requirement to consult with parents or staff before doing so. Once the school has opened as an academy, the decision is irreversible.

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