New research has found that nearly half of academy leaders “believe that the autonomy associated with their status has either had no effect or a negative impact in the classroom”. The survey of 1,246 teachers and school leaders was conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research on behalf of the Sutton Trust. The National Governance Association’s joint survey with Tes in 2016 found that few academy trusts were using the freedoms that their status afforded them: just 16% had utilised freedom from following the National Curriculum, 20% had used the ability to set their own pay and conditions, 9% had changed the length of school terms and 18% had changed the length of school days.
The word autonomy is often used incorrectly in relation to academies, with the emphasis wrongly placed on the individual academies rather than on the academy trust itself. While single academy trusts will have a degree of autonomy in relation to the points addressed above, academies within multi-academy trusts are subject to the ultimate control of the trust board. It is the trust board, rather than an individual academy within a trust, that is the accountable body and can therefore decide which (if any) functions it delegates locally.