What is an Academy?

Academies are independent, state-funded schools, which receive their funding directly from central government, rather than through a local authority.

The day-to-day running of the school is with the head teacher or principal, but they are overseen by individual charitable bodies called academy trusts and may be part of an academy chain.

These trusts and chains provide advice, support, expertise and a strategic overview. They control their own admissions process and have more freedom than other schools to innovate.

What is the future of “academisation”?

In the last Budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced a forced academisation plan, under which all schools in England would either have to convert to academies by 2020 or be committed to converting by 2022.

This would have, in effect, ended the link between local authorities and schools that began in 1902. However, the plans aroused strong criticism from teaching unions and others, including Conservative MPs and councillors, and have now been abandoned.

Ministers say the “goal” of academising all schools remains but attention will now focus on schools that are “clearly failing”.

What are the benefits of academy status?

The government argues academies drive up standards by putting more power in the hands of head teachers over pay, length of the school day and term times.

They have more freedom to innovate and can opt out of the national curriculum.

It says they have been shown to improve twice as fast as other state schools. Others dispute that.

In the past, they have received £25,000 conversion costs from the Department for Education and have topped up their budgets by as much as 10%, receiving funds for support services that used to go to the local council.

Who oversees academies?

Academies, like all schools, are inspected by Ofsted but because of changes to the inspection regime, those classed outstanding are no longer routinely inspected.

Regional School Commissioners were introduced in 2014 to approve academy conversions and monitor standards at academies and free schools in their areas.

There are eight regional commissioners, who each work with a small board of head teachers. They cover quite a large geographical area and act on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education.

Does the Equality Act 2010 apply to academies?

Yes. All equality legislation applies directly to academies. Academies must make reasonable adjustments for children with SEND and ensure they are not put at a substantial disadvantage.

Does the law on special educational needs (Part IV of the Education Act 1996) apply to academies?

No. Academies are independent schools, funded directly by the Secretary of State and accountable mainly through a contract rather than statute. However, this does not mean that academies have no obligations to children with SEND.

However, if the proposed changes occur in 2014 the law will be applied but this has not happened yet.

Do academies have an obligation to meet the needs of children with SEND?

Yes. Each academy will have an obligation to meet the needs of children with SEND written into its funding agreement. This is normally found in Annex C of the funding agreement. It is important to stress, however, that the exact nature of each academy’s Funding Agreement does vary and it is necessary to understand the document for each specific academy when looking at their responsibilities for SEND.

It is worth noting that all academies established after the passage of the Academies Act 2010 must have ‘the SEN obligations’ written into their funding agreements as a condition of that Act. These SEN obligations mirror the Governors’ duties of maintained schools, such as having regard to the SEN Code of Practice and employing a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo). Earlier academies will have more variation.

Do academies have to follow the SEN Code of Practice?

Virtually every academy has an obligation to have regard to the SEN Code of Practice written into their funding agreement, although you should always check the individual Funding Agreement. All Academies established after the passage of the Academies Act 2010 will have this written into their funding agreement.

Do all academies have the same obligations to children with SEND?

No. The particular obligation that each academy has to children with SEND will depend on the Funding Agreement. Academies have different Funding Agreements depending on when they were established historically. All academies established after the passage of the Academies Act 2010 have the same ‘SEN obligations’.

Are academies subject to freedom of information requests?

Academies, by virtue of the Academies Act 2010, are subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) – Schedule 2, Section 10 inserts into Part IV of Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This has applied to all academies since January 2011. This means that under the FOIA any person will be legally entitled to ask an academy for access to information held by that academy.

Academies may choose to charge a fee for complying with a request for information under the FOIA. The fee must be calculated according to FOI regulations and the person notified of the charge before supplying the information. The Department for Education (DfE) has recommended that academies respond to straightforward enquiries free of charge and only charge where the costs are significant.

If you can’t find your local Academy’s funding agreement on the Academy’s website or the DfE website you are able to put in an FOI request to all Academies and they must give you the relevant information.