What’s the difference between a school and an academy?

25/07/2022 | All

There are an increasing number of different types of schools in England and it can be difficult to distinguish between them. The main two types of school – the most common type in the UK – are maintained schools and academies. Although you’ve most likely heard of both types, you may not be aware of the difference. So, what’s the difference between a school and an academy?

Maintained Schools

Whilst the number of academies in England is expanding, the majority of state schools are ‘maintained schools’. This means they are overseen, or ‘maintained’ by the Local Authority. These schools must follow the national curriculum and national teacher pay and conditions. There are four main types of maintained schools; community schools, foundation and trust schools, Voluntary Aided schools (VA schools) and Voluntary Controlled schools (VC schools). 

Curriculum

The main difference between schools and academies is that maintained schools must follow the National Curriculum. They are able to focus on specific subjects as long as the National Curriculum requirements are still met. Teaching hours are stricter at maintained schools and they must go through a lengthy consultation process to make changes to the school day. Similar to academies, student outcomes are monitored through Ofsted and they must meet national floor targets. 

Students

Restrictions on the age-range of schools are usually set by the local authority and can vary. Concerning admissions, selection by ability is allowed for grammar schools but no others. However, like academies, they can prioritise up to 10% of secondary pupils on aptitude.

Finance

Arguably the biggest difference between academies and schools is that schools are funded by the Local Authorities. Schools are free to allocate all funds received however the Local Authority keeps a proportion back for ‘central services’.

Personnel management

QTS is required for all teachers in a school. All performance management is performed by the Local Authorities whereas academies are free to employ their own performance management techniques. Schools also must follow all national pay and conditions. 

Academies

While there are different types of academies in operation in England, they all have the same status in law as ‘academies’. Academies are publicly funded, independent schools, held accountable through a legally binding ‘funding agreement’. These schools have more freedom and control over curriculum design, school hours and term dates, and staff pay and conditions. 

Curriculum

Unlike maintained schools, academies are exempt from following the National Curriculum. Certain subjects, however, must be taught – such as Maths, English and Science. Teaching hours are less controlled than in a maintained school and academies have more free reign to change day and term lengths. Much like maintained schools, student outcomes are monitored through inspection by Ofsted and must reach national floor targets.

Students

Concerning the restrictions on age-range of academies, anything between the 5-19 age range is usual. Unlike schools, admissions and selection are not aptitude permitted – however they can prioritise up to 10% of secondary pupils on aptitude. The cap on the number of students is the same as schools – Primary classes are limited to 30 pupils by statute and Secondary classes are not limited.

Finance

Academies’ source of revenue and disbursement is public – funding is disbursed directly by formula calculated by the DfE. Funding varies between LAs and often have additional funding from the academy sponsor. Academies also have full flexibility to allocate funds as deemed fit, including services normally provided by local authorities.

Personnel management

As with schools, all teachers are required to have QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). However, there are a few major differences in personnel management associated with academies compared to schools. Academies are free to set their own pay and conditions and are also free to hire for non-teaching positions as they see fit. Performance management is not regulated by local authorities as it is with maintained schools. Academies are free to evaluate and manage performance as required (subject to TUPE restrictions).

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