Figures out today show that more than 50 per cent of pupils in state-funded schools in England are now studying in an academy or free school.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds has hailed the milestone as “a decisive moment” and urged more schools to consider the “freedom and opportunities” offered by becoming an academy.
But his comments came as a report from Parliament’s public spending watchdog raised a variety of serious concerns about the academies programme, warning that academy failures were damaging children’s education.
Mr Hinds said: “In everything we’ve been doing to improve education these last few years, we have put a strong focus on handing power back to schools, back to school leaders – recognising that they are the ones best placed to make the right decisions for their pupils and their communities.
“It is fantastic that 50 per cent of the pupils in state-funded schools in the country are now benefiting from the freedom and autonomy that an academy trust enjoys. But the academies programme has never really been about structures – it has been about trusting headteachers and school leaders to run schools.
The Department for Education (DfE) says new research out today shows that, in the majority of cases, standards have risen more quickly in sponsored academies than similar council-run schools.
It matches sponsored academies with similar non-academies based on inspection results and the make-up of their pupils, and shows that sponsored academies that have been open for longer have made substantial gains in performance.
The data shows, in many cases, that standards have risen more quickly in under-performing schools that have become academies than in similar council-run schools.
Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said:
"This is an important moment. School trusts are no longer a policy initiative – a small project in a much larger education system. Half of children and young people in England are educated in the academy sector. We have come of age.
“Academies are making a positive difference by turning around schools which have failed children for generations.”
Simon O’Hara, spokesman for the Anti Academies Alliance said: “As the PAC (Public Accounts Committee) report makes clear, children’s education continues to be damaged by academy failures and the misuse of funds. Academisation is not the answer, it is a large part of the problem.
"We believe that all schools should be under local democratic control."
The 2010 Academies Act gave all schools in England the freedom to choose to become an academy. Increased freedoms included measures such as altering the length of the school day or adapting the curriculum to help every child access a school that meets their needs, interests and abilities.
By 2010, there were 203 academies – mostly in inner cities – but now more than 8,300 schools in the country have become an academy or opened as a free school.
The DfE schools census in October 2018 found there were 50.1 per cent of pupil in academies compared with 46.8 per cent in January 2018.