What is an Academy School?


An Academy is an independent school funded directly from central government via the Education Funding Agency. This is unlike maintained schools who receive their funding from their local authority.

Academies are not under the control of the local authority. Instead, academies are governed by a contract, called a Funding Agreement, between the Secretary of State for Education and the organisation which runs the school.

Although the day-to-day running of the school remains the responsibility of the head teacher or principal, it is overseen by the organisation which runs the school, the academy trust. An academy trust may be set up by one school, it may run more than one school, it may be set up by a business, university, faith or voluntary group. These trusts provide advice, support and expertise.

A school can either choose to become an academy or can be required to do so by the Secretary of State for Education.

A school that chooses to convert to academy status completes an application to convert following a decision by the governing body of the school, that the school should become an academy. For foundation, trust or voluntary schools, there will also need to be the consent of the foundation, trust or diocese to the academy conversion.

A school can be required to become an academy if it is eligible for intervention i.e. if it has been judged by Ofsted to require significant improvement or it has not complied with a warning notice issued by the local authority. A warning notice can be given if the standards of performance of pupils at the school are unacceptably low, there has been a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed or governed, or the safety of pupils or staff of the school is threatened.

Academies have more freedom than maintained state schools over their finances and curriculum and for example, term times.

Academies receive their money directly from the government, not the local authority. They receive the same direct level of per-pupil funding as a maintained school, plus additional funding to cover the services that are no longer provided for them by the local authority.  

These include:

  • Behaviour Support
  • Educational Welfare Service
  • Educational Psychology Service
  • SEN Specialist Services (Physical/sensory Impairment Support Service, Autism Services etc.)
  • IT and Finance Support

Academy schools are free to choose to buy in any of these services from the local authority as well as from any other providers. 

The academy trust employs the staff.They and do not need to follow national pay and conditions for teachers.

Which legislation applies to academies?

Academies don’t have to follow the national curriculum however they must teach a broad and balanced curriculum including English, maths and science. They must also teach religious education. Academies have to follow the same rules on admissions, special educational needs and exclusions as other state schools. 

The Department for Education (DfE) states that the statutory guidance on the following areas applies to academies:

  • Assessment and reporting arrangements (Key Stages 1 and 2)
  • Exclusions
  • Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
  • Home school agreements
  • Safeguarding
  • Admissions (the School Admissions Code)
  • Special educational needs (SEN)
  • Careers

Details of this and other statutory guidance can be seen at Schools Statutory Guidance

Academies can choose to follow DfE guidance on other matters but they do not have to.

Sex and relationships education (SRE) - Academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum and so are not obliged to teach sex and relationships education (SRE). Local authority maintained schools in England are under this obligation for children from age 11 upwards. However if academies decide to teach sex and relationships education (SRE) they must have regard to the Government’s SRE guidance. SRE Guidance

Academies are legally bound by the terms of their Funding Agreement. It is the Funding Agreement that dictates how the academy is run, what duties it is under and what powers the Secretary of State has over the academy.

The Funding Agreement is a binding contract and is the method by which academies are held accountable to the Department for Education.

The Funding Agreement is specific to each school. They can be viewed for all academies on their individual school page on the Department for Education web site School and college performance tables.

In addition to their Funding Agreements academies do still have to abide by the following:

Equality Act 2010 -  In England and Wales, the Act applies to all maintained and independent schools, including academies, and maintained and non-maintained special schools. The Equality Act 2010 provides a single, consolidated source of discrimination law. It simplifies the law and it extends protection from discrimination in some areas. On 1 October 2010, the Equality Act 2010 replaced all existing equality legislation such as the Race Relations Act, Disability Discrimination Act and Sex Discrimination Act.

The Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2010

SEND Code of Practice 0-25 years - SEND Code of Practice

Freedom of Information Act 2000 - Covers access to information the school holds and provides parents with the right to request such information.

What does this mean for a child with Special Educational Needs (SEN)?

The Children and Families Act 2014 took effect in September 2014.  This Act changed the system of support for children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) which had previously been set out within the 2001 SEN Code of Practice and the relevant regulations in the Education Act 1996.

Academies are required to follow the special educational needs and disability (SEND) Code of Practice 2014 and relevant regulations. See our pages SEN Support in Schools , EHC Needs Assessment , EHCP and Reviewing an EHC Plan for further details.

Every academy will have written into their Funding Agreement an obligation to to have regard to the SEN Code of Practice and meet the needs of pupils with SEN.

What does this mean for a child with a Statement or EHCP?

Under the new Children and Families Act 2014 local authorities are responsible for preparing an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) for children with complex special educational needs where previously these children would have had a Statement of special educational needs.

Local authorities must have completed the transfer process from Statement to EHCP for all children with Statements by 1st April 2018. Statements of SEN will remain in force until the transition to an EHC plan has been completed. The 2001 SEN Code of Practice and the relevant regulations in the Education Act 1996 will continue to apply until the end of the process.

Where there is a Statement or an EHCP it is the local authority’s responsibility to ensure that the provision of that Statement/EHCP is met and this applies in academies on the same basis as for pupils in maintained schools.

However, there are some differences for academies in the laws relating to Statements and EHCP's.

If a maintained school is named in a child's Statement the school can be compelled by the local authority to admit the child and all mainstream maintained schools have a duty to make all possible reasonable adjustments to enable a child with a Statement to attend that school. Whether an adjustment is reasonable is judged by its cost and the impact of it on other children at the school.

Academies, however, are not covered by this law. The crucial document for all admissions to academies is the school’s individual funding agreement. The model academy funding agreement does give academies the ability to object to admitting a child with a Statement.

The local authority should secure agreement from academies prior to admission. If a child’s Statement is amended to name an academy, the academy can object to the Secretary of State about that decision. Once the Secretary of State has considered the complaint it can direct the academy to admit the child.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) can direct academies to admit.

The position with non-maintained and independent schools is similar to that of academies. However, non-maintained and independent schools have even more autonomy in that if they decide not to offer a place to a child with a Statement, there is no body that can overturn that decision and direct admission.

One of the changes the Children and Families Act 2014 made was to the power of local authorities to direct schools to admit children. The Children and Families Act applies to EHCPs only. The local authority can direct all types of school including academies, independent and non-maintained schools, to admit a child with an EHCP if their EHCP names that school.

Whilst the local authority has overriding power to name a school in an EHCP and direct it to admit a child regardless of the school’s representations, that school must be suitable. 

If a school indicates that it is not suitable for a child because of their special educational needs, they will need to give a detailed explanation of the basis of that decision including considering whether any adjustments could be made to make the school suitable for the child. If parents disagree with that decision, they will need to provide evidence to support their view.

If a school genuinely believes that it has been inappropriately named in an EHCP or Statement, it may consider an application for Judicial Review against the LA. This would be the only route available in EHCPs as schools have no right of appeal to the SENDIST.

What if there are problems?

Every school in England must have a complaints procedure.

For guidance about complaining about a school visit GOV.UK website: Complain about school

For further information on resolving disagreements visit our page: Challenging Decisions, Mediation and Tribunals 

At any point you can contact Portsmouth SEND Information Advice and Support service on 0300 303 2000 for impartial advice and support.

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