An overview of what Academy schools are and what they do
What is an academy?
Academy schools are state-maintained, but independently-run, schools that are established with the help of sponsors. Normally, these sponsors are businesses and educational trusts.
Academies generally enjoy more freedom than those that are under local government control and some go through from Foundation Stage all the way to Key Stage Four.
Schools that are judged to be outstanding by Ofsted will get the chance to convert to academy status, and new academies have also been used to turn around the fortunes of struggling schools.
How are academies different from mainstream schools?
Academy schools can have greater scope to modify teaching and learning strategies. Some academy schools that are trying to drive up standards may incorporate more literacy and numeracy sessions into the school day.
These schools can also award discretionary bonuses to staff and pay head teachers a salary that may be as much as ï¿½30,000 more than other schools.
Who are academy sponsors?
The United Learning Trust (ULT) is the largest single sponsor of academies in the UK. Figures from the Department for Education show that three of the top four 'most improved' academies between 2009 and 2010 - Barnsley, Paddington and Stockport - were sponsored by ULT.
Lord Harris of Peckham, the millionaire chair of Carpetright, supports eight South London city academies.
What have academies achieved?
Although some have opposed the roll out of academies throughout the UK, 2011 statistics from the Department for Education show that they have improved GCSE standards at a faster rate than mainstream schools. In academies, the percentage of pupils achieving 5 or more GCSEs, including English and Maths, rose from 40.6% to 45.9%, an increase of 5.3 percentage points.