Schools worry about being left behind in academy rush

10 Nov 2011

 Over the past couple of days I've been chairing two conferences aimed at schools that are considering converting to academy status.  

It's been interesting to see how many primary schools, in particular, are feeling under pressure to consider the issue. Many fear they will be left behind if they miss the moment, such is the momentum of change with some 1500 academies now in existence (up from just over 200 at the last General Election).

Some interesting points were made by speakers, including those from the Young People's Learning Agency, which is responsible for funding academies. It was pointed out that the new funding system has changed since July and - as the speaker admitted - 'the days of open cheque-books have gone'.

 There is general acceptance that the early converters often had substantial financial gains, but that looks far less likely in future. There is no longer a direct link with the per pupil funding formula used for local authority maintained schools. Instead, there is simply an assurance that no school will lose out by converting to academy status.

The biggest cultural shift for most schools is recognising that they will become, in legal terms, a company. As one lawyer who's advised many converters put it: 'you become a company, you become alone, that's uncomfortable for some people in education'.

The other interesting aspect of the conversion process is that it is a one-way street. There is no mechanism for returning to maintained school status.

Several speakers from schools that have already converted sang the praises of their new status. But most acknowledged that the things they have changed (uniform policy, school hours, ethos) could have been done without becoming academies. However they said the process of converting had been invigorating and had encouraged further innovation and reform. 

For others - still teetering on the brink of change - there is clearly uncertainty and bafflement about what exactly is changed just by becoming an academy. Yet, judging by the rush to convert, there is an even stronger fear of being left behind as the last maintained school in the area.


User Comments

Rebecca Hanson - 10 Nov 2011

Thanks of this post Mike.

I find it deeply disturbing. As you say - the reforms could have been achieved without academy status.

It was always my reading that these reforms went absolutely counter to all established theory of the economics of education and the state. Since this government came into power I have worked at length and with an open mind to gain some understanding as to why the established theories may no longer hold.

Instead I have found no justification for these reforms. They seem to be founded entirely on media spin and attempts to satisfy pressure groups (for the evidence of this see the Top Trumps discussion thread in the UK Education group on

My dad was an economist who was shouting loudly that when the Euro was being debated and introduced that it was doomed to painful and expensive failure. He was also great friends with the top international economist of education - E.G.West who was the godfather of the theories of free markets in education - which he made plain to all were only relevant to emerging markets in education.

He wrote at length about how changes in complete systems of education needed to partial and deeply sensitive to the reasons for the existence of the status quo.

The way in which his work is being seriously represented by those pursuing their own interests is nauseating and the obvious reality that none of those with authority can have bothered to properly read even an introductory source like this one is simply horrifying.

Sue Walton - 14 Nov 2011

Schools worry about being left behind in academy rush

Mike, the fear of being left behind is definitely a strong factor in school conversion. I am a governor at a secondary school that converted in August. We did a very detailed risk-benefit analysis of converting and the possibility of being the only secondary locally not to have converted was a real concern (and as it happens quite justified as all the schools we compete with directly have now converted). Our analysis showed that there were more far more risks associated with not converting than with converting. In comparison the benefits were not that great (and became less so the more we delved into the academy paperwork!). I agree that converting does seem to energise schools although why that should be given the work involved in converting is a mystery! I am concerned that many governing bodies have yet to understand the full implications for governors of becoming an academy. The rhetoric from DfE is that the roles of governors are similar in academies to in maintained schools but that is not at all accurate. Governors in academies are directors and trustees with all the accountability that these entail. I suspect that some governing bodies are in for some nasty shocks in the future.

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