Back in march 2016 the Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan announced that all schools throughout the UK would be forced to become academies. When details of this radical proposal were outlined in the budget, there were very few people who expressed enthusiasm for it.
Those supporting Ms Morgans decision were likely to be in favour of limited government involvement in the education sector. Academies are largely self governing, and have less state involvement than their counterparts.
Critics say that academies can become too isolated, potentially deviating from the standard syllabus, to the detriment of their pupils` education. They say that it is helpful and logical for all schools to receive assistance from their local authorities.
Academies are state-funded schools - independent institutions, funded directly by the government, instead of through their local authority. Another distinction is that the head teachers or principles are more autonomous, and don`t fall under the jurisdiction of the local authority; although charitable institutions or religious organisations may have some say in the day to day running of the school.
Academies are a fairly new phenomenon - prior to 2010 there were only around 200 academies. Many of these had been recently built with the intention of becoming academies; others had been converted from state schools. The vast majority of schools that were converted to academies around this time had been struggling academically, and it was hoped the conversion would allow them to improve.
These early `sponsor academies` were granted exemption from the national curriculum, and even dispensations with the rulings over teacher`s pay, in order to help them combat their their difficult position. The programme was immediately popular, partly because the schools that initially converted to academies were in areas of significant educational weakness, and were in dire need of any kind of assistance; but also though because these schools achieved a huge about of money to make the changeover.
By early 2016, of the 3381 state secondary schools, 2075 - nearly two thirds - were academies. This may sound like a surprising proportion, but the abundance of academies only applies to secondary schools. As of 2015, of the 16,766 primary schools, only 2440 have become academies.
Because academies are largely dissociated from their local authorities, many of them have greatly benefited from being part of `academy chains.` These are groups of schools working collaboratively under a unified structure - ; generally charities helping to run `chains` of schools; but often there are religious organisations helping to run the groups of schools, generally termed Faith Academies.
As effective as these academy chains can be, many expressed concern with Nicky Morgan`s proposal to make all school academies, stating that there weren`t enough chains to ensure the schools would be sufficiently funded. The General Secretary of the Association of teachers Mary Bousted has said
`It is hard to see how the government`s plans will work when there aren`t enough high quality multi-academy trusts to cope with thousands more schools, and some trusts are performing as poorly as the worst local authorities, according to Sir Michael Wilshaw.`
The Head of Ofsted Sir Wilshaw somewhat controversially condemned the poorest performing chains for what he called their `Walmart-style` manner of appropriating academies.
`You know, pile `em high and sell `em cheap. It was empire building rather than having the capacity to improve these schools,` he told MPs in June.
Perhaps it was opinions such as this that led Nick Morgan to announce a radical U-turn on making all schools in the UK academies by 2022. In may 2016 she declared her change of plan, saying:
`I am today reaffirming our determination to see all schools become academies. However, having listened to the feedback from parliamentary colleagues and the education sector, we will now change the path to reaching that goal.`
Some features of that path seem granting powers to the department of education enabling it to force underperforming schools to convert to academies. She has kept some remnants of her original proposal, even though many have seen this U-turn as a huge embarrassment, with the Education Secretary Lucy Powell calling the Government`s retreat `frankly humiliating.`