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Academies flex their freedoms

21 May 2012

Three - quarters of academy heads believe new status will have significant impact on pupil outcomes

Half of all head teachers at recently converted academies have already made changes to the school curriculum, with a further 20 expecting to make changes over the next 12 months, according to a survey by Ipsos MORI for education law firm Browne Jacobson, in association with the Independent Academies Association.

Amongst primary academies two thirds (63) of head teachers surveyed have already exercised this freedom compared to one-third (37) of secondary school academies.

The survey also reveals that three - quarters (73) of head teachers believe becoming an academy will have a significant positive impact on pupil outcomes, with 29 expecting it to have a very significant impact and 44 expecting it to have a fairly significant impact.

Nearly half of those head teachers who think conversion will have an impact (46) believe the freedom to target resources where they are most needed will be a critical factor in helping to raise pupil outcomes.

It is this greater autonomy that appears to have captured the imagination of academy head teachers whilst an overwhelming 93 of head teachers surveyed have already exercised their freedom from local authority control. It is a mixed picture when it comes to changing the length of terms and school days or setting their own pay and conditions for staff. Eight out of ten head teachers have no plans to exercise either freedom although that may change as the Government attempts to introduce regional pay for UK public sector workers.

It was also clear from the research that the conversion process has been far from plain sailing with eight out of ten head teachers in the survey identifying a lack of clarity over funding as an obstacle either during or just after conversion.

More than one in four academies are keen to explore more collaborative arrangements with other schools - 34 intend to set up a group of academies whilst 27 are keen to be an approved sponsor within the next twelve months.

However half (57) of academies do not plan to do either over the next twelve months. This will be a concern for the government and with more than half (57) feeling they need support to become an approved sponsor there is clearly a need for additional guidance and support.

Commenting on the results Nick Mackenzie, Education Partner at Browne Jacobson, commented:

"The ultimate goal of the academies programme is clearly to drive up standards. Whilst it may be too early to assess its impact on achievement levels, Ministers will be buoyed by the news that the vast majority of head teachers envisage academy status as impacting significantly on pupil outcomes.

"Whilst the Government has taken steps to simplify the conversion process, many clearly still face a myriad of challenges and obstacles that need to be addressed. The current level of support for governors on their new role, particularly in relation to their legal and financial responsibilities, appears to be wanting and could be unnecessarily exposing academies to risk. The need for greater support on exploiting income generation opportunities was also evident as was the need for greater clarity over funding.

"Reducing bureaucracy, supporting innovative practices and championing the benefits of collaborative working are essential if the academies programme wants to fully realise its potential and carry on winning many more hearts and minds."

Browne Jacobson has one of the countrys leading education law practices and is at the forefront of advising on the Governments flagship academy schools project. To date it has advised 1 in 10 of all academy schools nationally as well as a number of Catholic Diocese, education colleges and other providers on the setting up of academy groups.

David Wootton, chair of the Independent Academies Association welcomed the research:

"It shows that many schools have become academies to improve their curriculum for students, not just for funding reasons, and highlights where more information would help future converters."

Ipsos MORI interviewed 151 head teachers of schools that have converted to academy status since August 2010. A total of 76 interviews were conducted with secondary head teachers and 75 with primary head teachers. Interviews were conducted by phone between January 25th and February 24th 2012

To access a copy of the report visit our education portal.

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Lakhbir Rakar

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