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This note provides an account of the academies programme under the last Labour Government, and outlines key reports and evaluations of the programme.

Academies during this period were independent schools, established and managed by sponsors, and mostly funded by central government rather than through local authorities. No fees were paid by parents.

The academies programme was a major part of the Labour education strategy to improve educational standards, particularly in disadvantaged communities and areas of poor educational performance. The programme built on the City Technology Colleges initiative introduced by the Conservative Government in the 1980s. Initially sponsors were required to provide significant contributions to the capital costs of academies but the requirements were changed, and abolished for universities and high-performing schools sponsoring academies.

There was much debate about the effect of academies on educational performance during this period. The Labour Government stressed that, in general, standards in academies were rising at a faster rate than the national average. However, critics questioned whether academy status in itself accounts for success, and stressed that some academies had serious shortcomings. Concerns were also raised about the influence of sponsors, and about accountability.

The rapid expansion of the academies programme, with all schools invited to become academies, has been a defining feature of education policy under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government. The Library standard note Free schools and academies: frequently asked questions, SN/SP/7059, provides information on the academies programme as it now exists, as well as the free schools programme.

The note relates to England only.

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