Half of pupils in an academy or free school

More than 50 per cent of pupils in state-funded schools in England are now studying in an academy or free school, according to Department for Education figures.

In response to the data, Education Secretary Damian Hinds is urging more schools to consider becoming an academy to enjoy better freedom and opportunities.

Introduced by the last government with the aim ‘to improve pupil performance and break the cycle of low expectation’, the academies programme boasts of success in improving school inspections from inadequate to good or outstanding. At the end of 2017, only one in 10 sponsored academy predecessor schools were judged good or outstanding before they converted, compared to almost seven in 10 after they became an academy, of those who had been inspected.

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 benefitting 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 head teachers and school leaders to run schools. Whilst there is a huge amount of diversity in our school system – and there are great schools of all types – I want more schools to choose to become an academy and enjoy the enormous benefits it provides to schools, their staff and pupils."

However, the academies programme is not without its critics, with a new report from the Public Accounts Committee warning that there has been a succession of high-profile academy failures that have been costly to the taxpayer and damaging to children’s education.

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “We all aspire to seeing children get an education of the highest quality, whether that is in an academy or a council-maintained school. Converting to an academy is not always the best solution for a struggling school.

“While there are examples of successful sponsor-led conversions to academy status, the evidence shows that council-led interventions have an even better record in terms of turning around failing schools. Moreover, the latest figures show 91 per cent of council-maintained schools are now rated good or outstanding – compared to 85 per cent of academies.

“Councils are also alarmed by the report from the Public Accounts Committee today, which highlights instances of academy failure and misuse of funds as well as recent research which revealed two-thirds of academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils. The government needs to work with councils and give them the necessary powers to play a leading role in school improvement yet again and meet the challenges currently facing the education system.”

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