When it emerged in the early 2000s, the idea behind academy schools was straightforward. Schools that were failing, particularly in deprived communities, were to be rebranded. Extra money, reinvigorated leadership with freedom to manage, and more specialised curricula were all intended to improve performance and signal that educational failure was no longer being tolerated. Academy chains emerged, with the chain providing effective oversight for a number of constituent schools. Post-2010, the ‘academies’ brand remained but the focus shifted. Rather than being a response to failure, academies were to become the standard model for secondary education in particular. Thousands of schools – including highly successful ones – were incentivised to convert to academy status, while free schools were also encouraged to set up with similar freedoms and obligations to academies. Governors could choose to band together into new or existing academy chains, which led to the rapid expansion of some chains. Now we’re entering a new phase – where these reforms need to be embedded. Freedom is one thing but it needs to be accompanied by accountability. The main accountability mechanism for academies is meant to come in the form of competition. The idea is that schools that are failing don’t […]

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