Academies could 'fuel social segregation'

pupils There are now more than 2,300 academies in England, government data shows

The rising number of schools in England with academy status could fuel rather than improve social segregation, says a report by the Academies Commission.

The report says some academies may "covertly" select pupils by using extra information on families or holding social events with prospective parents.

The commission says academies should publish socio-economic data about who applies and who is offered a place.

Academies are independent school which are funded by the state.

In its report - Unleashing Greatness - the Academies Commission says it has received evidence that some popular schools, including academies, attempt to select and exclude pupils.

It says that, while this practice is not new, the fact that academies have greater autonomy over their admissions has "attracted controversy and fuelled concerns that the growth of academies may entrench rather than mitigate social inequalities".


This report is a detailed overview of one of the biggest structural changes to England's education system in recent times.

The shift towards more schools becoming academies, the review says, has come at an 'astonishing speed' since the coalition came to power and 'the scale and speed of change has been huge',

Half of England's secondary schools are now academies, although only 5% of primaries are.

The review panel drew together recent research on academies as well as views of various people and groups.

It's aim, it says, was not to discuss the decision to develop the academies programme - which has been controversial - but to look to the future to suggest ways of improving it.

Its key recommendations, about boosting accountability and standardising the rules on who schools can admit and how parents can get redress if their children are turned away, are being keenly read by all sides of the debate, with each finding elements to support their views.

All state schools must abide by an admissions code, which obliges them to admit pupils in a fair way.

But the commission says it has received numerous submissions suggesting "academies are finding methods to select covertly".

The admissions code says that schools cannot interview children or parents, or give priority to children whose parents offer financial or practical support.

"Some witnesses suggested to the commission that schools, including academies, have ways to get around this, such as by holding 'social' events with prospective parents or pre-admission meetings."


The report says the rise in the number of academies - 2,309 at the start of this academic year, up from 203 in May 2010 - could see further admissions injustices.

"As the pace and scale of academisation lead to a rapid rise in the number of schools that are their own admission authorities, there is a risk that admissions 'game-playing' may be extended further.

"The current emphases on choice and diversity may go some way to improving the school system in England, but they are likely to hit a ceiling because of the lack of engagement with (or even negative impact on) disadvantaged families."

Start Quote

Each academy should publish comprehensive data, including socio-economic data, about who applies to it and who is admitted”

End Quote Academies Commission

The commission calls on the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to develop a system for admissions which allows parents "some independent recourse in terms of their relationship with an individual school, or each academy trust, acting as its own admissions authority".

"This is particularly important in terms of appeals," it says.

The report also recommends school data on admissions to be made widely available and analysed by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) to identify any segregation.

"In the interests of demonstrating fairness and accessibility, the commission believes that each academy should publish comprehensive data, including socio-economic data, about who applies to it and who is admitted. "

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "All admissions authorities - be they local councils or self-governing schools including academies - must comply with our new fair admissions code.

"We specifically changed the law so that anyone who has concerns about how any state-funded school is admitting pupils can formally object to the OSA."


The Academies Commission report also suggests the role of school governors in academies is becoming even more important and needs "greater attention".

"The commission's evidence gathering suggests there needs to be a radical shift in their capacity, knowledge and attitude if they are to take on both the leadership role expected in an academised system and fulfil their legal responsibilities as directors of charitable companies."

The report also says the recruitment of chairs of governors need to be "far more professional and rigorous", with positions being advertised.

Michael Gove The commission calls on Mr Gove to give parents help in appealing against an academy's admission decision

The commission also says no school should be judged outstanding for leadership unless it can provide evidence of its contribution to system-wide improvement, such as support for the improvement of another local school.

Chair of the commission and former Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert said: "Academisation alone cannot bear the burden of improvement.

"There has to be enough support and challenge in the system, and enough checks and balances, for academies or groups of academies to be able to use the independence they have gained professionally and with moral purpose. "

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "This report highlights serious problems with Michael Gove's management of one of Labour's key school improvement programmes.

"The report issues a clear warning on the implementation of the academies policy, echoing Labour's concerns that under this government the schools system is becoming chaotic, impacting on standards and fairness."

What are Academies?

  • Academies are independent, state-funded schools, which receive their funding directly from central government
  • They were originally brought in by Labour in a bid to improve struggling schools, primarily in deprived areas.
  • The policy has been altered and accelerated by the coalition government
  • All primary and secondary schools are now invited to convert to academy status, but priority is given to those deemed by watchdog Ofsted to be "outstanding" or "performing well"
  • Education Secretary Michael Gove says academies will drive up standards by putting more power in the hands of head teachers
  • There were 2,456 academies open in England, as of November 2012
  • The number has grown dramatically under the coalition government, from 203 in May 2010

Academies are independent, state-funded schools, which receive their funding directly from central government, rather than through a local authority.

They have more freedom than other state schools over their finances, curriculum, length of terms and school days and do not need to follow national pay and conditions for teachers.

Academies were first set up under Tony Blair's Labour government, with the aim of raising standards in under-performing schools in disadvantaged areas.

However, the coalition government extended the programme in 2010 to allow good and outstanding state schools to convert to academy status.

The Academies Commission was set up by the Pearson Think Tank and the RSA charity to examine the implications of the "mass academisation" of state schools.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I have a few points
    1. The word 'may'. To me this suggests that nothing has been done, this is therefore a non-story.
    2. People are decrying the academies as a way for organisations to syphon money off the children. But wait isn't this what the LEA's do? A big fund comes in once all plush offices, staff, IT, travel and not forgetting gold plated pensions they pass the scraps onto the schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    What's the matter with segregation? It already happens on the grounds of religion and sex, so why not on the basis of ability?

    However, I do agree ALL schools should be forced to publish who got in and who was rejected. I'm sure in a lot of cases it's not about ability, but more about being pals with the head or active in the PTA etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Let's be honest this is just an attempt to go back to grammar school style tests at 11 years which were a failure and an impediment to social mobility from day one. Kids need a chance to learn before you test them so called 'ability' test are just a convenient excuse to segregate society and sow division on arbitrary lines. Enough is enough, don't privatise our education system any more!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Gove will secretly be delighted about this because a) More Tory votes will get their children into the best schools and b) A better intake means better test results and he can claim what a great success Academies are.
    I'm amazed that anyone would actually think that the Conservatives would do anything that would benefit people from poorer backgrounds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    So, the privaliged get chosen first over us "unsuitable" working class. First, I'm sure thats social engineering which a great many infamous dictators are known for. Second, the fact that people from underprivaliged backgrounds try their hardest to achieve a greater education (due to appreciation and to get good jobs) seems somewhat irrelivant and needs to be supressed with insufficient resources

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    The old grammar school system was not fair. I passed my 11+ but did not have enough points to go to a grammar school. I later found out that the pass mark was skewed to favour boys. These academies will not help children in disadvantaged areas. They have been altered to create an elite society (not the big society). Gove is bad for our kids, he should go now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Academies are accountable to NO-ONE except Michael Gove.
    Good luck to anyone who thinks their child is not getting a fair deal if they are enrolled in an academy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.


    'After an initial couple of years of enthusiasm many Principals will be able to just coast if they so choose.'

    That is true of many teachers at nice, middle class schools. Seen it at private school too with biddable, compliant middle class kids.

    Stretch them? Help somebody who is struggling?

    Make work for myself?

    Don't be silly Mr Jgm2.

    Coasting? I should say so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    87. RonC - Grammar Schools and Academies are totally different. Grammar schools are funded and run by the local council where as Academies are run as a business by a company to make profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    The report is called "Unleashing Greatness"? Seriously?

    I've yet to hear a single argument in favour of academies beyond "it gives headteachers greater autonomy". Well, it doesn't really. They're still teaching to the same curriculum and any deviation will soon see them cut down by Ofsted.

    Fragmenting the education system just seems a precursor to us replicating the dreadful US system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    If you want to improve social segregation then ban all faith schools, CofE, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, all of them. Religious communities are attracted to the area of these schools and the children grow up amongst their own kind. This is segregation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    In the 60s my sister passed her 11+ but was not offered a grammar school place. The local bobbies daughter did not pass her 11+ but was offered a place. My parents were working class. My sister got her place but was often bullied by the teachers as my mother struggled with the cost of school uniforms etc. I agree with grammar schools but they should be place of learning not class or creed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Academies were never about education standards, they were about allowing private companies to make a profit from public services. Is it not enough that private companies make profit when we buy food, petrol....., now they want a piece of the action when it comes to education. It's totally immoral.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    I've wasted a lot of free funding in the past...

    I quit 2 high schools, 2 colleges and 1 voluntary job after college.


    People find me intelligent but I am also extremely lazy. I found out at the age of 17 that I hate using computers for work and that's basically what all my qualifications are based on. Off to the Job Centre for me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Let's not forget that thousands of school buildings and playing fields (paid for by the taxpayer) have been GIVEN AWAY (NOT SOLD), deeds and all, to privately owned outfits like the Harris Federation run by the Tory peer Phil Harris. Not only are academies divisive, but Gove is giving your money to his chums. Academies' charitable status means a tiny tax bill. Deft, eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    What really worries me is how any government dept is going to keep an eye on all of these 2000+ Academies who are free to do nearly anything they want with your children!

    Local councils at least had some idea what was happening in their schools
    Gove is a complete idiot!

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    What's wrong with segregation? Let the more academic kids learn in a safe and nurturing environment and introduce a new type of school for those who are going to work with their hands rather then their brains. Gove is the best Minister we have had in a long time!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.


    'Clever and/or hard-working children should be kept well away from lazy. thick, abusive, violent, truanting, thieving, bullying types and other undesirables'

    Indeed. Why is this a problem?

    We don't insist that adults put up with such nonsense in the workplace. You don't get 'challenging behaviour' in the operating theatre - why is it somehow okay and 'inclusive' in schools?

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.


    Surely the aim is to REDUCE not "improve" social segregation? Either BBC or the Academies Commission has not proof-read the opening sentence. Time for someone to go back to an Academy and resit GCSE English.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    'Free Schools' were judged a failure in Sweden(where the concept was pioneered)because they did not improve educational standards in general and increased social differentiation.
    Academies are being hi-jacked by the middle classes, who don't want their Gervase or Jocasta associating with Kyle or Sharon.
    I object to my taxes being used to increase social stratification.


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