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academies - driving success through autonomy

20 May 2012

Welcome to this survey of primary and secondary headteachers of converter academies. This report sheds new light on the reasons for converting, whether academy status can help school leaders deliver better pupil outcomes, the challenges of the conversion process and what academies plan to do with their freedoms. We hope that by sharing their insights we can help school leaders respond to the academies programme.

We are undoubtedly in the middle of the largest reform programme for our school system since 1944 with the Government’s reforms focusing on three key areas; recruiting the best teachers, introducing rigorous accountability and using autonomy to raise standards.

Autonomy is a fundamental part of the academy programme but does autonomy actually help raise standards?

Autonomy is a fundamental part of the academy programme but does autonomy actually help raise standards? The Government cite the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s international survey data and the experiences of countries such as Singapore, Sweden, Canada and the United States of America in support of its reforms and to provide examples of where giving more autonomy for individual schools helps raise standards. Whilst it is perhaps too early to objectively test this in England, what do our school leaders believe? The results may surprise some.

The Department for Education’s statistics for April 2012 show that we have reached a landmark in the secondary education landscape with over 50% of all secondary schools either being or having applied to become academies. In contrast relatively few primary schools have chosen to adopt academy status; as at April 2012 less than three per cent of primary schools had adopted academy status. This survey, which represents the views of over 20% of primary converters at the date of the research, gives a valuable and important insight for the primary sector.

The survey also reveals some interesting findings on what school leaders think of academy freedoms. For example, whilst the freedom to innovate around the curriculum may not be a primary motivator, it is a freedom that is certainly used, particularly with primary converters.

We also investigate the obstacles schools face when converting. Of particular interest, in light of the recent renewed opposition by some unions to the academy programme, is schools’ experience working with their staff and unions throughout the process. Another key aspect of the academy programme is the requirement to support another school. To date the number of schools seeking sponsor status has been low but there is some evidence in this survey that with more information and support there is genuine enthusiasm that could be built on.

We have included case studies throughout our report to demonstrate what is possible and to acknowledge those pioneering schools that have driven through the changes despite the potential pitfalls they have encountered. If you have any views on the research findings in this report or wish to discuss your own views about academy freedoms, we would be delighted to hear from you. Academies - Driving Success Through Autonomy

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