Academies are publicly-funded, independent primary, secondary or special schools. Unlike maintained schools, they provide education with freedom from local authority control and some freedom about how they teach the curriculum.

Some old style academies were setup by the government to replace schools with poor results. New style academies, those set up since 2010, are generally schools achieving good results who have applied to the government to become an academy.

Academies will previously have been local authority run schools. Older style academies have outside sponsors from a wide range of backgrounds including businesses, universities, charities, faith bodies and other successful schools. Sponsors are responsible for improving the school. New style academies do not need outside sponsors.

The difference between a maintained school and an academy

A maintained school is a school that receives some or all of its funding from the local authority. Unlike maintained schools, academies receive their funding directly from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), an agency of the Department for Education rather than from local authorities. Academies receive the same amount of funding per pupil as they would receive from the local authority as when they were a maintained school.

The details of the funding are found in a funding agreement. This is a contract between the Secretary of State and the academy which makes the academy a charitable company. The academy must keep to the conditions of this contract. Funding agreements can be different for each academy and individual funding agreements can be found by searching for the school.

Academies are expected to buy services that would previously have been provided for them by the local authority and receive additional money from the ESFA to do this. For example, types of services include school libraries, swimming lessons, free school meals and catering, outdoor education. However, academies can choose how they use their money to best benefit their students. Academies still have a governing body, known as the academy trust, but have greater freedom over some things than maintained schools. Governing bodies must have at least two parent governors.

Similarities between a maintained school and an academy

Like maintained schools, academies must follow the law and guidance on admissions, special educational needs (SEN) and exclusions. However, there are some changes. Schools, including special schools that become academies should not be financially disadvantaged in any way when they change. Like other schools, academies are regularly inspected by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).

Converting to an academy

All schools should carry out a consultation, but it is up to them to decide how to do it, who with and for how long. They do not have to ask for the views of parents and carers.

Academies and admissions

Parents apply for places in an academy in the same way as for any other local school. Academies are not allowed to choose some or all of their students unless this is what they did before. Admission of children with SEN should not be affected when a school changes to an academy.

The same admissions code of practice applies including admission appeals to an academy, although the Secretary of State can change this if a school can demonstrate that there is a need to do so.

Academies and exclusions

Academies are required to follow the law and guidance on exclusions as if they were maintained schools. This includes reporting exclusions to the local authority. However, academies do not have to consult the local authority before deciding to exclude a pupil and they can arrange their own independent appeals panel.

View statutory guidance on school exclusions.

Academies and special educational needs

Every academy will have some obligation to meet the needs of children with SEN written into its 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 read this document for each specific academy when looking at their SEN obligations.

The academy trust must ensure that pupils with SEN are admitted on an equal basis with others in accordance with its admissions policy.

Special schools previously maintained by the LA can apply to become academies.

Academies and SEN support services

The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice 2001 has been rewritten to produce a new SEND code of Practice in September 2014. 

The SEND Code of Practice applies to children and young people with SEN without an Education Health Care Plan (EHC plan) and is attached to this page.

Academies and the Equality Act 2010

All schools in England, Wales and Scotland, have to follow the Equality Act 2010. It is the responsible body of the academy that is liable for any breaches of the Equality Act. The responsible body of an academy is the proprietor.

Complaints about academies

Complaints should be made first of all to a child's class teacher or head of year, then the headteacher, and finally the academy trust (this is effectively the governing body).

Following this process, if a parent is still not happy with the academy's response, a complaint can be made to the Secretary of State via the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

All SEN complaints should be made by making reference to the academy funding agreement and stating that the academy may not be fulfilling the terms of its contract. It will be important to check carefully what the exact wording in the funding agreement is.

Freedom of Information

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 applies to academies as it does to maintained schools.

Contact us

Please contact us if you need any further help or advice. Please note that during holiday times the advice line will operate but with reduced staffing, therefore response times may take longer than usual.