What Are Academies? Useful Information About This Type of School


  1. What are academies?
  2. What does it mean if a school is an academy?
  3. What is considered an academy?
  4. What does an academy do?
  5. Is an academy a private school?
  6. What are the benefits of an academy school?
  7. What are the disadvantages of academy schools?
  8. Should I send my child to an academy?

Choosing a new school can be nerve-wracking, overwhelming and confusing – and that’s just for the parents! With more and more schools now listed as academies, it’s important to understand what they are, what they can offer your child, and how they operate.school classroom with chairs on the tables

What are academies?


Ever wondered ‘What’s the difference between a school and an academy?’ Well, you’re certainly not alone. An academy is simply a type of state school. 🏫

In the UK, the most common types of state schools are:

  1. Community schools – These are also known as local authority maintained schools. They follow the national curriculum and are not influenced by religious groups or businesses.
  2. Foundation and voluntary schools – These also receive funding from their local authority and have some flexibility to change how things are done. They sometimes get support from people who represent religious groups. 
  3. Academies and free schools – These schools are funded directly by the government rather than the local authority and are run by academy trusts.
  4. Grammar schools – These can be run by an academy trust, a foundation body or a local authority. Grammar school students are selected by looking at how well they perform academically and have to sit a test.

So, why were academies introduced in the UK? Academies were first seen in 2000 when they were introduced to help support schools in deprived areas. Since then, a large number of primary and secondary schools have become academies.

Because they get their money directly from the government, an academy doesn’t have to answer to the local authority or follow their rules. This gives the people in charge the freedom to make changes as and when they need to.


What does it mean if a school is an academy?


Traditionally, there have been two types of academy school:.  

  • Converter academies are those that are doing well and will mostly have good Ofsted grades.  These schools have chosen to change their status so that they can benefit from more independence. 
  • Sponsored academies are usually schools that aren’t doing well and have changed to become sponsor-run academies. These schools have lower Ofsted grades and one of the reasons they are encouraged to become an academy is because they can benefit from the shared expertise of the multi-academy trust (MAT).

An academy is usually looked after by a multi-academy trust, which consists of a group of trustees who oversee the schools within the trust.  


What is considered an academy?


When you hear people talking about academies, they may also be referring to free schools. Don’t be misled though, they’re not as topsy-turvy as the name suggests! A free school is a brand new state school, as opposed to an existing school that changed its status to become an academy. They operate in law as academies and have lots of things in common. 

Free schools, like academies, are funded by the government rather than the local authority. They cater to students of any ability and don’t select students based on their grades. They can decide their own pay scales for staff, set their own term dates and can even change the length of the school day. These schools are non-profit and are often set up by charities, universities, faith and community groups or even businesses. It’s also possible for an independent school, teachers, or parents to set up their own free school. So, if you’re looking for a new project…😉

University Technical Colleges (UTC)

Free schools include University Technical Colleges which, as the name suggests, offer students the chance to study more technical areas like construction or engineering. They also teach other relevant subjects such as business skills and IT. The curriculum of a UTC is created by a university with input from employers. These employers also offer work experience so students can hone their skills. 

One of the advantages of a UTC is that students study practical subjects alongside more academic ones, and this helps them to gain technical qualifications. As you can imagine, this suits some students perfectly! In addition to their government funding, this type of college can also get sponsorship from employers, further education colleges and universities.

Studio schools

Another type of free school is the studio school. These are smaller secondary schools that usually cater for around 300 students, which is great if you’re looking for a smaller environment.  Students use project-based education to work towards qualifications and take on real-world experiences to support their learning.  Studio school students have a personal coach and work with a local employer. The curriculum they follow is designed to help them gain the qualifications or skills they need to get a job or to continue their studies. 💼


What does an academy do?


Academies can offer greater flexibility compared with some other types of schools. For example, an academy can follow its own curriculum rather than the National Curriculum. This doesn’t mean that students won’t get a well-rounded education, as an academy’s curriculum has to contain a range of subjects (e.g. Maths, English and science). Also, like most other students in the country, they’ll work towards the same nationally-recognised qualifications and sit the same exams. Another advantage of academies is that they can decide their own term times and are not restricted to the dates laid out by the local authority. 

Like state school, academies still have to follow the rules around admissions, exclusions and special educational needs such as behavioural difficulties, autistic spectrum conditions, dyslexia and ADHD. They are also regularly inspected by Ofsted – so they still have to be accountable for how the school is run. As well as Ofsted, academies also have to answer to The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), the Schools’ inspectorate, and the Regional School Commissioner who is appointed by the Department for Education.


Is an academy a private school?


Many parents find themselves asking ‘What’s the difference between an academy and a private school?’ Firstly, and importantly, an academy is not a private school. They don’t charge fees as they receive funding from the government. 💸

However, like private schools, academies are separate from the local authority. They are run by an academy trust which means they can run things more independently. An academy trust is a not-for-profit company that employs the school staff.  An academy trust might be responsible for one academy, or they might have a group of academies. They also pick trustees who are in charge of the schools’ performance.

In terms of where an academy gets their money, they are free to receive sponsorship and support from a range of sources. It’s common for academies to be sponsored by businesses or voluntary groups. They might also receive support from universities, other schools and faith groups. The academy trust works alongside its sponsors to make sure the school is doing as well as it can. 


What are the benefits of an academy school?


  1. Academies can have a more flexible curriculum and so they can sometimes offer a wider range of subjects than other schools. This may appeal to a greater range of students or those with more specific interests.
  2. The academy can decide how to spend their budget and tailor it to what they need. 
  3. The academy trust that looks after the school often includes multiple schools. These schools can share their expertise and help each other. 
  4. It’s possible for some types of academy to get funding from external sponsors. This means they have access to more money than the local authority alone could provide and they can choose how to spend it.


What are the disadvantages of academy schools?


  1. While it’s important to view each school individually, there are some concerns that converting a school into an academy does not necessarily lead to better performance.
  2. Academy trusts are not accountable to parents or the local community – and it can sometimes be hard for parents to access detailed information about how the academy is run.
  3. An academy can hire teachers who have not completed formal teacher training, so they may not have the same qualifications as other educators.

Should I send my child to an academy?


In order to make a choice regarding any place of education, it’s important to take it on a case-by-case basis. Like all schools, some academies provide a wonderful learning environment, while others struggle to manage the needs of their students.

The number of academies in the UK continues to rise, with 39% of children in primary education attending an academy, and 78% of secondary age students attending an academy. (These numbers include free schools.)

In 2016, the government proposed that all state-funded schools in England would have academy status by 2022 – so you could find that it’s less a case of ‘Should I send my child to an academy?’, and more a case of ‘Which academy should I choose?’. 

One of the best things you can do is visit the academies and other schools in your areas. Take advantage of open days and school events to talk to the current teachers and pupils and get a sense of what they offer. Find out from other current parents what their experiences have been like and ask them how they’d rate the school.

Finally, make sure that you include your child in all of this at a stage that you think is appropriate. The transition from one school to another is always going to feel big, so including them in the conversation can only be a good thing. 👍

Start your kid’s learning journey