What is Academy status?
Academies are state funded comprehensive schools which receive their funding directly from central government. Academy status allows schools:
• To innovate to raise the quality of education even if this means moving away from the National Curriculum.
• Ability to set the length of school terms and days.
• Responsibility for setting criteria for admission to the school.
• Responsibility for employing and agreeing pay and conditions for all staff.
• Removal of Local Authority ‘control’ and 100% delegated funding to choose services to support its students.
How is Academy status different from being a Trust school?
• As a Trust school we do have to follow the National Curriculum. With Academy status this would not be necessary.
• We already operate an extended day but could change the term length. For example some academies run five terms of equal length. We do not plan to change term dates or lengths.
• We already work in partnership with other schools and colleges to provide 14 -19 education and this will continue.
• The Governing Body already sets its own admissions criteria in line with the national guidance and this would not change. Academies are not selective schools – they can only select 10% of their intake as specialist schools and this applies to virtually all secondary schools already.
• We already employ our own staff under national and local agreements. Academy status means we could alter these but only if our employees agreed.
• Stoke Damerel Community College already has freedom from Local Authority control as a Trust school, but some of our school budget (about 8%) is retained by the City Council to provide services to our school.
An academy receives this money directly and can choose to buy back services it needs from the Local Authority.
• Stoke Damerel Community College is already supported by a Trust which owns the land and buildings. The only differences are that an Academy Trust receives the schools’ funding direct from central government and appoints the majority of governors. The Academy Trust does not have to have any sponsor under the new arrangements.
What do we think are the advantages of Academy Status?
• Fully delegated funding. We are entering a period when schools’ budgets are likely to come under real pressure and it makes sense to us to have as much flexibility over how we spend our money as possible. We estimate that, with Academy status, the school would receive an increase of 8% per annum to its core budget and that it would cost 2.5% of this at most to buy back these services. Only a quarter of this might come from the Local Authority budget – under current arrangements the remainder would be provided by central government, so where local services to ourselves and other schools are cost effective they should not be affected.
• Freedom from the National Curriculum. We may consider the National Curriculum limits what we are able to offer our students. This freedom would enable us to offer greater choice and flexibility to students and to raise standards further. Our experience has convinced us that schools should have the flexibility to choose the curriculum that is right for their own students.
• Ability to vary pay and conditions. We are not proposing to change pay and conditions with the change to Academy status. We do want however, to recruit, retain and develop the very best staff for our students, and this flexibility could allow us to do this.
What are the concerns people have about Academies?
Q: Without the Local Authority, who will make sure the schools are doing a good job and are locally accountable?
A: Academies are inspected by Ofsted and as with Trust schools it is the role of governors and trustees to make sure the schools serve the community and help students achieve highly.
Q: Do Academies take money from other schools and so damage them and the Local Authority?
A: Academies don’t get any more money than other schools - it is just that they are free to choose what to do with it. If Local Authorities provide cost-effective services then it is likely we will buy into them as we already choose to do. Academies do not take any money that is due to other schools.
Q: Can Academies use their freedom to select students?
A: No, Academies are no more able to select students than any other specialist school. We are strongly committed to our school being non-selective and at the heart of the community.
Q: Surely Academies are elitist and create a two tier system?
A: Any school will be able to take up Academy status in the future and we expect many will. We became the first Secondary Trust school in Plymouth in 2008 and other local schools have since followed suit. Many other Plymouth schools are considering Academy status at the same time as us.
Q: Do Academies end up becoming islands with no links to other schools?
A: The same was said when we became Foundation Trust school, but we continue to have strong partnerships with our local primary schools and secondary schools, the Local Authority and other schools in Plymouth and beyond.
Q: Can Academies exploit their staff by removing national pay and conditions agreements?
This is likely to apply to all schools in the future, but we are not proposing that there will be any change for existing or future employees.
Q: Who will bail out the School if it gets into financial difficulty as an Academy?
A: We take our financial management responsibilities very seriously. If mistakes were made and we did overspend in one year then this would have to be remedied in the next budget. This requirement to balance budgets applies to all schools.
Q: But, there are no guarantees Academy status schools will receive the same level of funding in the future. Is this the case?
A: This is true, as education budgets are inevitably going to be under pressure in the future, but this will apply to all schools, not just academies. We think that having the maximum possible control over our own funding will enable us to cushion the effect of any future cuts.
What changes are actually being proposed?
• Stoke Damerel Community College would become an Academy Trust and enter into a funding agreement with the Department for Education. There would be no change to its charitable objectives or membership, no majority sponsor would be brought in, and the Trust would continue to own the land and buildings.
• The Governing Body would agree its governance arrangements with the Department for Education.
• All existing employees of Stoke Damerel Community College would transfer from the old to the new Governing Body, with no change to pay and conditions. Stoke Damerel Community College would move to Academy status in April 2011. A similar process occurred when the school became a Trust school.
• We plan to retain the name of the school