How much do academies use their legal ‘freedoms’ in practice

See pages 44 and onwards in the Pearson Commission report on academies here.

The report identifies the following ‘freedoms’:

  • set their own curriculum, subject to teaching a broad and balanced curriculum that includes English, mathematics, science and religious education
  • set the length of their school day and term
  • appoint their own staff and set their own staff pay and conditions of service, subject to complying with employment law•
  • set and manage their own budgets, subject to certain restrictions
  • act as their own admissions authority and set their own admissions criteria, subject to following the School Admissions Code
  • determine their own governance structures, subject to the inclusion of two parent governors

Of those, maintained schools can:

  • set the length of their school day
  • appoint their own staff and set pay and conditions for non-teaching staff
  • set and manage their own budgets, subject to certain restrictions
  • voluntary aided (maintained) schools act as their own admissions authority, etc

I don’t understand the point about governance, since that is set down in the academy’s funding agreement (i.e. set by the Secretary of State), and so not something the academy itself can decide

Anyway, as to the extent to which academies have used those freedoms, the Pearson Commission reports that:

However, taking the academy sector as a whole, the evidence suggests that the take-up of freedoms has been piecemeal rather than comprehensive. For example, the fifth and final evaluation of the sponsored academies programme found that although the curriculum in academies was seen by teachers as being more flexible and innovative than in the maintained sector, it was in general:
‘… operating in similar ways to improving schools in the LA maintained sector, namely monitoring and improving the quality of lessons, ensuring appropriate continuing professional development, and tracking and monitoring pupil progress.’ PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2008
The evaluation also found that there had been some ‘pulling back on some of the earlier curricular innovations’ as academies focused
on getting the basics right.
This finding is reinforced by the more recent Reform and Schools Network survey mentioned above (Bassett et al., 2012). It indicates that academies have been cautious:
  •  only a tenth of academies had extended the school day, with a further 7% planning to do so
  •  only 12% of academies had changed terms and conditions of service, although a further 10% were planning to do so
  •  just under a third were using curriculum freedoms, with nearly  a further third saying that they were planning to do so.

Very similar results emerged from a survey of headteachers of schools that had converted to academy status (Ipsos MORI, 2012) – the only significant difference being that in the Ipsos MORI survey a higher
proportion of academies (50%) reported using curriculum freedoms.

This suggests that, although a degree of change has been triggered by academisation, widespread innovation has yet to take hold across the sector.”

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