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5.1 Across the world, the case for the benefits of school autonomy has been established beyond doubt: in a school system with good quality teachers and clearly established standards, devolving as much decision-making to school level as possible ensures that decisions are being made by the professionals best able to make good choices for the children and young people they serve. Analysis of PISA data shows that the features of the strongest education systems combine autonomy (e.g. over staffing powers at school level) with accountability (e.g. systematic and external pupil-level assessments)69.
5.2 In many of the highest performing jurisdictions, school autonomy is central. In high-performing US States, Charter Schools – publicly funded independent schools set up by a legal ‘charter’ – have been engines of progress70. For example, over 85 per cent of young people from deprived urban communities who attended one of the national network of Knowledge is Power Programme (KIPP) charter schools go on to college71. In Alberta, Canada, all schools are afforded significant autonomy in relation to how they teach and how they manage themselves72. In Sweden, pupils who attend state-funded independent Free Schools outperform those in other state schools and a higher proportion (eight per cent more) go on to higher education73.
5.3 In this country, the record of independent state schools provides a striking testimony to the power of autonomy. City Technology Colleges (CTCs) were introduced in the late 1980s as innovative new schools outside local and central bureaucratic control. They were the forerunners of Academies: independent state schools established in urban areas, which often had a history of low attainment, offering pupils aged 11–18 a truly stretching curriculum. CTCs are now among the best schools in the country, with great results and a record of continued improvement. CTCs not only have high standards, they also close the attainment gap. Poor pupils in CTCs, those eligible for free school meals, are more than twice as likely to achieve 5 good GCSEs including English and mathematics than other pupils eligible for free school meals.74
5.4 Academies have built on the success of the CTC model and have been securing improvements in standards well above the national average, turning around some of the worst-performing secondary schools in the country75. Schools which had become sink schools with chronically low aspirations, poor behaviour and a culture of failure are now centres of excellence and engines of social mobility. In Academies, the attainment of pupils receiving free school meals is already improving faster than in other schools76. Twenty-six per cent of Academies this year were judged to be outstanding by Ofsted, compared to 18 per cent of all maintained schools77. And a real success has been the establishment of powerful Academy chains supporting schools to improve even more rapidly. Those Academies, which are part of chains or federations such as ARK schools or the Harris group have an even larger proportion of their pupils achieving 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE on average than pupils of Academies not in a chain78.
5.5 But the success of the Academies programme has been limited by its narrow ambition. The first Academies opened in 2003 and prior to September 2010 there were only 203 open Academies in England, making up about 6.5 per cent of all of our secondary schools79. At the same time, the autonomy and freedoms enjoyed by Academies have been eroded over recent years as they were made subject to more and more bureaucratic requirements and targets. Equally, it has been extremely difficult for parents or other groups to set up new state-funded schools, even where the need was great.
5.6 So there is great scope for us to extend autonomy and freedom for schools in England. It is our ambition that Academy status should be the norm for all state schools, with schools enjoying direct funding and full independence from central and local bureaucracy. Some schools are not yet in a position to enjoy full Academy freedoms and we will ensure that all schools, whatever their status, are freed from unnecessary bureaucracy, and enjoy progressively greater autonomy, with their own funding, ethos and culture. We expect schools to use their increased autonomy to explore new ways of working together – but collaboration in the future will be driven by school leaders and teachers – not bureaucrats.
5.7 In order to help all schools enjoy greater freedom to excel we will:
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