Academies cool on freedoms, survey shows
The majority of academies are ignoring the freedoms on offer to them, a survey has shown, despite ministers claiming schools were opting to convert to academy status to take up these additional powers.
According to figures released today, less than a quarter of schools were planning to change the length of their school day or term times, and just a third had opted to change their curriculum.
The study did show, however, that academies were more keen to introduce changes to teachers’ pay with nearly two-thirds opting to take up the freedom.
The figures reveal the extent to which academies were turning their backs on the additional powers on offer, despite education secretary Michael Gove stating otherwise.
In a speech last month, Mr Gove said thousands of schools had “seized the chance” to become academies in order to take up the same freedoms as those enjoyed by private schools.
But according to a survey of more than 650 academies published on Tuesday by the think tank Reform and schools network the SSAT, few have adopted the freedoms on offer.
Just 19 per cent of academies have changed, or were intending to change the length of the school day, while only 6 per cent have altered their term times.
Similarly, just 35 per cent were intending to tweak their curriculum, and 17 per cent have made changes to their admissions policy.
In his foreword for the report, Reform director Andrew Haldenby said that despite ministers wanting academies to make “full use of their freedoms”, his think tank’s survey showed they “are not yet doing so”.
“Less than a quarter of respondents have varied their school day or school term, or plan to do so,” he writes. “A third have created their own academy contract and terms and conditions for staff, or plan to do so. A third have varied from the national curriculum or plan to do so. Four in ten employ teachers without qualified teacher status or are considering doing so.
“The starting point of the academy programme was to provide something new and different to the education that went before. In those terms, however, academies remain an unfinished revolution.”
Back in 2011, another survey of headteachers undertaken by the Association of School and College Leaders showed three quarters of heads intending to convert to academy status were doing so for financial reasons.
Academies are handed direct control over their budgets, including the equivalent in cash previously spent by local authorities on additional services such as administrative staff and school support.
Brian Lightman, ASCL’s general secretary, said the extra money was a “major attraction” when considering converting to academy status. And he added it was “understandable” that academies were moving slowly when it came to adopting the new freedoms.
“It is very sensible that academies are taking things slowly, particularly due to the pace of other changes taking place and the general volume of workload,” Mr Lightman said.
“There is no question that the additional money was a major attraction at a time when [heads] knew there were going to be cuts.”
The figures also showed that nearly half (45 per cent) of academies still relied on the local authority to deliver back office services such as HR and financial advice, while two-thirds stated their relationship remained unchanged with their councils.
The stats were welcomed by the NUT, which said it “supported the view” that local authorities provide “vital services” to schools.
The poll did show that 60 per cent of academy heads wanted to see all schools handed academy freedoms, while 80 per cent would recommend becoming an academy.
The Department for Education said: “Academy status gives head teachers the freedom to run their school as they think best without interference from local and national government,” a spokesperson said. “According to this report, three in five academies have already introduced changes to teachers’ pay, while one in five has changed the length of their school day.”