Academy Conversions Slowing Down

academies by type


Four years after Michael Gove became Secretary of State for Education, and more than ten years after the very first academy opened, some fear that the academies programme has now gone too far to stop. Have most schools now become academies? Has the convertor programme proved popular and replaced the need for sponsored academies? Are primary schools converting at an increasing rate? What does the data tell us?

number of academies

The number of Academies


According to the DfE, the number of open academies in England, up to and including September 2014, is 4,167.[1] Of these, 2,154 are primary academies and 1,807 are secondary academies (along with a small number of specialist 16-18 academies, PRUs and special schools). A DfE release from January 2014[2] (the latest census on their website and based on the 2012 return) states there are16,818 primary schools and 3,268 secondary schools in England (excluding special schools). Although 55% of secondary schools are academies, just less than 13% of primary schools are academies and just less than 21% of all schools are academies. More to the point: almost 4 out of every 5 schools remain local authority community schools.



The Rate of Academy Opening


The DfE data also shows the rate of academy opening. The table, below, summaries the number of academies opening, per year, from 2010 up to and including 2014 (to September).

openings per year


It appears:


The number of schools becoming academies per year is declining. Even taking into account the part year for 2014 it looks as if the number of academies opening in 2014 will be below the number in 2013 and the number in 2013 was below the number in 2012.


The number of secondary schools opening as academies has been in decline since 2011 – 130 (2010), 767 (2011), 433 (2012), 207 (2013) and 105 (2014 to September). Note:165 sponsored secondary academies opened in the period from 2002 – 2009 (ie: pre 2010).


The pattern of primaries opening as academies is beginning to follow the pattern for secondaries. So although the number increased in 2013, compared to 2012, it is now falling too. The raw data for primary academies opening per year is 25 (2010), 312 (2011), 592 (2012), 713 (2013) and 512 (2014 to September).


Slightly counter intuitively, the percentage of academies opening per year that are primary schools has increased from 20% in 2010 to 79% in 2014 (to September) because the number of secondary academies is declining faster than the decline in the number of primary academies opening per year.


The Type of Academies

academies by type

The DfE data allows the breakdown of academies into the two main types – convertor and sponsored. Breaking down the overall numbers (to September 2014) in this way produces the following graphic.



If this data is then broken down by year it confirms a general decline in academy opening and suggests the academy programme has become more (not less) dependent on sponsored academies.

type per year


Note that as the number of convertor academies opening per year declined in 2012, the number of sponsored academies opening per year increased (although this number could be beginning to decline, too, unless there are a good few more sponsored academy opening before the end of 2014).


The increased proportion of sponsored academies is seen most starkly in the primary phase.

primary per year


The data shows a very much sharper increase in the number of sponsored primary academies – from only 5 in 2011 to 291 in 2013 – than the increase for convertor academies over the same period (from 307 to 422). Nevertheless, it seems the number of primary schools becoming academies is now in decline for both types of academy.


In secondary, we see a fairly consistent rate of opening for sponsored academies (and remember that sponsored secondary academies existed prior to 2010) but an initial wave of convertor academies in 2011 that has been in sharp decline since then.



Overall, then, the convertor academy programme has not been popular, especially in primary, and sponsored academies have been used (especially in primary) to increase the number of academies opening per year.


It’s also difficult to explain the fall in the number of secondary academies opening per year by suggesting there are now few secondary schools left that are not academies. There are still nearly 1,500 secondary schools that are not academies. At the current declining rate of opening it might take at least another parliament to reach the point where even all secondary schools were academies.


The argument that we can’t go back to the arrangement for schools that we had in 2010 needs to be taken seriously but it also seems that the earliest we could see even the vast majority of secondary schools (ie: close to 100%) as academies would be 2020 (without new legislation making conversion compulsory). To argue that Gove’s academy programme was a success and the game is over may be a little premature.



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