Academies and Free Schools

In this section you will find information about Academies and Free schools with links to useful government publications and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Information about how Local Authority (LA) maintained schools can convert to academy status and how groups can apply to open a free school can also be found in this section.

The White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere was published on the 17 March 2016.

The White Paper sets out the Government's intention that all schools will be expected to become, or be in the process of becoming, academies by 2020, with all converted by 2022.

In May 2016, the Government revised these plans. Whilst it is clear that the aim is still full academisation, the Government has said it would not pursue "blanket conversion". It would however introduce legislation that would provide for academy conversions in situations where:

  • A local authority could no longer support its remaining schools because a critical mass of schools in that area had already converted, or where a local authority had requested the DfE to convert all of its remaining schools.

  • A local authority consistently failed to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools.

What is an Academy?

Academies are state funded, non-fee-paying schools in England, whose grant is paid by central government rather than by a local authority (LA). They operate in accordance with their funding agreements with the Secretary of State, and are independent of LAs.

An Academy is a school which is run by a special Trust, specifically set up for that purpose. The Trust is a company limited by guarantee which takes control of the land and other assets. Employees at the school cease to be employed by either the LA or, in the case of Voluntary Aided and Foundation schools, by the current Governing Body. Maintained schools, are 'maintained' by LAs and therefore have varying degrees of council involvement.

Although academies, free schools and maintained schools share many similarities, there are some important differences in terms of the rules and legislation they are subject to.

How Different are Academies

They still have to follow the same rules on admissions, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) exclusions as other state schools.

Academies get money direct from the government, not the local council. They're run by an academy trust which employs the staff.

Some academies have sponsors such as businesses, universities, other schools, faith groups or voluntary groups. Sponsors are responsible for improving the performance of their schools.

Some of the key differences include:

  • They have the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff
  • There are some freedoms around the delivery of the curriculum. The curriculum requirements for a particular academy can be found in that academy's funding agreement.
  • They can change the lengths of terms and school days
  • Financial responsibilities increase and the LA no longer automatically pays certain bills

Some things stay the same:

  • Collaboration:Academies are expected by Government to ensure that the school is committed to its community, collaborates, shares facilities and expertise with other schools and the wider community. The government expects all high-performing schools applying for academy status to partner a weaker school.

  • Selection:Schools which already select some or all of their pupils will be able to continue to do so if they become academies, but schools becoming academies cannot decide to become newly selective schools.

What are the Different Routes to Become an Academy?

There are three different routes to becoming an academy.

  1. Sponsored Academies (sometimes known as Mark I Academies): these are where (generally underperforming) schools have been closed down and replaced by a new Academy. Many of these changes were linked by the previous government with the "Building Schools for the Future" programme and had extensive rebuilding. As these are statutorily "new schools" some of the rules regarding transfer of assets differ.
  2. Converter Academies: these are schools where governance arrangements change rather than the school closing down. As stated above, the Academy will be operated by the company (Trust), but in other respects converter Academies are similar in governance to former Grant Maintained Schools.
  3. Free Schools:are entirely new state schools. The current government has made a committed to 500 free schools.

How are Academies Held Accountable?

The LA has a limited role in overseeing academies. Instead, their operation is overseen by:

  • The Education Funding Agency (EFA - a Department for Education (DfE) Executive agency);
  • Schools' inspectorate, Ofsted;
  • Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) who are DfE appointees who each cover one of eight regions in England. RSCs, can make decisions on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education.

Academies must comply with the current version of the EFA's Academies Financial Handbook.

Useful downloads

Guidance for Governing Bodies: Joining or Creating a Formal Partnership, Federation or Multi-Academy Trust - Published October 2016

Audit Tool for School Leaders - Published October 2016

Related Pages

DfE White Paper: Educational Excellence Everywhere

Federation and Collaboration

School Organisation