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Academies are almost wholly independent of local councils and are only answerable to the Secretary of State for their decisions on how they spend public money.

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Academies are state-funded independent schools.

Academies were first introduced by the Labour Government using the rationale that they would be used to partner low performing schools with sponsors to ensure that standards could be developed.

The current Government extended the academies programme using the Academies Act 2010. The Government announced that all outstanding schools could convert to academy status in order to free schools from local authority control. The DfE announced subsequently that all schools could apply for academy status. However, some schools have been forced to become academies (see forced academies). 

The Government has suggested that academies will enable schools to exercise certain freedoms regarding the curriculum, choice of services and disapplying national pay and conditions terms for teachers.

There are however serious criticisms of the academies programme.

One of the Government’s arguments in favour of academies is that they will give parents more choice. However, in many cases, educationalists are concerned that free schools could lead to less choice.  Despite being funded by taxpayers, academies (and free schools) will not be bound to local admissions arrangements. Whilst they will need to have regard to the Admissions Code, they will be free to set their own admissions rules. This means that they will able to place restrictions concerning who they wish to attend their school, for example, using academic tests as a basis for selection.

Charter Schools in the USA, which are cited by the Coalition Government as a model for academies in the England, have faced serious criticisms by educationalists on the grounds that:

- their results are not any better than other state schools;

- they are not effective for low-performing students;

- they have very poor rates of completion, particularly for students from the poorest communities;

- they are unstable institutions – of the 5,250 Charter Schools opened in the USA up to August 2010, one in eight had already closed;

- teacher turnover is much higher than in other schools.

Academies are not required to employ qualified teachers to teach pupils. Educationalists point to evidence that shows that where national pay and conditions for teachers are not in place, as can be the case with academies, the quality of staff deteriorates and if this is combined with the use of unqualified staff, the turnover of staff can be high, causing instability in teaching and learning.

Although the Government suggests that academies are being removed from Local Authority control in order to exercise the freedoms, educationalists suggest that there are very few freedoms that schools were not able to use before and that local authorities have not controlled schools since reforms in the 1980s. Instead concerns have been raised that academies are being removed from public ownership into the hands of public funded, private providers, not rooted in local communities thus effectively privatising the education system through the back door and removing any democratic leverage.

There are further concerns that this will lead to the vital loss of local authority services as local authorities will no longer have the resources to deliver the services and academies will be able to buy in services from other providers including from other companies. These services include those for special education needs and the welfare of children, as well as necessary expenses such as insurance.