News and views from north Bristol's urban village

Sunday, 15 July 2007

What are Academies?

Interest in the nature of secondary school academies has increased in Bristol in recent weeks due to the announcement that Colston's Girls School on Cheltenham Road has applied to become one. Although the application is at an early stage, it has raised some questions among local parents about what these schools are and how they operate. In response to these questions, I've compiled a question and answer post for parents. If I've missed any questions, get in touch and let me know.

1. In One Sentence, What is an Academy?

An academy is an all-ability secondary school financed by the Department for Education and run in partnership with sponsors from the business, charity or faith sectors.

2. How Much do They Cost to Attend?

Like all state schools, academies are free of charge. Parents do not pay to send their children to them.

3. Do Academies Follow the National Curriculum?

Only if they choose to. Like independent schools, they are free to not follow it if they see fit. Students do, however, work towards the normal GCSEs and A levels. Academies are free to choose what to teach and how to teach it.

4. Do Academies Have OFSTED Inspections?

Yes, just like all state schools.

5. How Many are There in the Country?

47 as of July 2007.

5. Do They Specialize in Particular Areas of Study?

All academies specialize in one or more areas. This does not mean that they don't offer courses in other subjects, but they do put more resources and time into that area of specialism.

6. Can you Give an Example?

The City Academy Bristol (located in Whitehall) specializes in sports and is jointly sponsored by Bristol City Football Club and the University of the West of England.

7. What do the Sponsors Bring to the School?

Expertise and advice on their area of specialism, including perspectives that may not be brought to the table in a traditional school setting. Also, enrichment and extension activities, contact with business and community organisations, etc. Typically, the governing body is made up of a majority of members representing the sponsoring bodies. The sponsors are required to not profit financially from the academy but can be required to put some money in, especially to the extension activities.

8. I've Read that Academies can Select Pupils Based on Ability. Is that Correct?

Academies can select up to 10% of their pupils according to their aptitude for the specialism of that academy. They cannot select on the basis of general academic ability. Existing state schools which have a stated specialism (it should be noted) are also allowed to do this.

9. What about SEN students?

They attend academies and are included as they would be in a normal state school.

10. How Well do Academies Perform?

It's early days. Because most of the academies have replaced "failing schools", often in areas of deprivation, we would expect to see an improvement in standards and results if the new management team were doing their job properly. This improvement is often evident to a greater or lesser degree. To what extent this can be attributed to the academy model as such is a matter of on-going debate and opinion.

10. Any Other Plans for Academies in Bristol?

It's not been widely reported, but a brand new academy will open in September 2008 on the site of the former Hengrove School in South Bristol. The Oasis Academy will be sponsored by the Oasis Trust, run by Baptist minister and GMTV presenter Steve Chalke.

More questions? Please leave a comment and I'll try and include an answer if I can provide one.

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