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Q&A: city academies

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 20 November 2007

A Tory government would make it easier to set up academies in deprived areas of Britain. But what is a city academy?

What are academies?

Academies are independent schools, publicly funded, that aim to provide "a first-class free education to local pupils of all abilities" (Department for children, schools and families website).

Why was the academy concept developed?

Academies aim to address the problem of educational under-achievement, usually in deprived areas of the UK.

As a broad rule, a school may be considered for conversion to academy status if fewer than 30 per cent of its pupils in the previous academic year gained five or more GCSEs at A-C grades.

The idea is that an academy can be more creative and innovative than a comparable comprehensive school because of the freedoms it enjoys, both academically (it is not confined by the national curriculum) and financially (it has a private sponsor, typically a business or wealthy individual).

How long have academies been around?

Academies in their present format were created by the 2000 learning and skills act. There are presently 43 academies.

The academy model is descended from the city technology colleges created by the Conservative government under the terms of the 1988 education reform act, although its educational remit is wider than the scientific and technological focus of CTCs.

Have academies been a success?

Critics of academies say that their financial and academic independence leaves them prey to ideological manipulation on the part of their sponsors, particularly in matters of religion.

A Commons report in 2005 expressed concern that some academies' good academic results had been achieved as the result of admissions policies that excluded pupils who were troublesome or from a disadvantaged background.

The DCSF website stresses that academies are not expected to be an overnight success "given the legacy of underachievement that they may have to overcome". But all academies are expected to make "steady upward progress".

How do the political parties stand on academies?

To the extent that Labour's city academy concept grew out of the Tory city technology college, there may not be much difference between the two main parties on the subject.

And today's announcement by David Cameron, promising that a future Conservative government would make it easier to set up independent schools within the state sector, prompted schools minister Jim Knight to remark: "Cameron has had to accept that the Government's policy of encouraging headteachers to operate setting in individual subjects is the best policy."

But the Liberal Democrats have attacked the Tory proposals, saying they would allow middle-class parents to create a new generation of grammar schools in wealthy areas.

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