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Why A Federation Is Better Than An Academy

A federation is a structure of governance where a group of schools share a single governing body. Schools within the federation remain under the jurisdiction of the local authority (LA) but all share a single governing body.


At Cadmus we call our federation a ‘family of schools’, because while each school retains it’s own name, ethos budget and uniform, we operate as a supportive family network that shares resources, facilities, staff and best practice.


The question for many schools however is; why not join an academy rather than a federation?

While joining an academy is typically proven to raise standards within a school (not guaranteed though), there are risks associated with joining an academy that are not associated with joining a federation. A federation can increase performance minus the risk and with greater autonomy for each member school.


You Are Not Locked Into A Federation

In a meeting with the academies minister Lord Nash, school governor Ian Courtney said that “A federation can be “unpicked” if unsuccessful. By contrast, it seems almost impossible to reverse the decision to become an academy.”


Though there is no lock in to a federation compared to joining an academy, joining a federation should still be viewed as a long term commitment rather than a quick fix.

A federation will put in place strategies for development of a school, that require medium to long term planning and implementation, and these should be given time to take effect and impact on results.

However the 2014 Federation Regulations do allow individual schools to leave a federation making joining a federation a low risk decision – the same cannot be said of joining an academy, which is not as easy to leave.


What If An Academy Fails And You Want To Leave?

Government stance on academies that fail to meet the standards is such;- “If an academy is failing to meet the required standards, the current system allows the department to take swift action, including transferring the academy to a more suitable trust where necessary. But we don’t believe transferring a school back into the control of a local authority is the best way to bring about improvement.”


This confirms that leaving an academy is no easy feat and it is the aim of the government to keep a school permanently within the academy system once it has joined. Moving back to the local authority does not appear to be an option.


Academies Do Not Offer Better Results Than A Federation

Educational performance analysis service School Dash created a sample group of 792 schools that joined an academy in 2010 and 2011 and studied these schools again four years later to decipher what measurable improvements in educational standards had been achieved if any.

These academy run schools were compared with similar schools that remained under the local authority (but were not Federation run schools).

In the Academy schools studied, those that were already rated good or outstanding by Ofsted when they joined the academy, achieved 68.1 per cent of pupils gaining five or more A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths, in 2015. That is compared to 66.1 per cent in the similar local authority schools. Meaning that for these already well performing schools, joining an academy only improved results by 2% compared to not locking into an academy.

It’s clear that academies offer only small improvement for pupils who are already attaining well prior to their schools joining an academy.

For students who were had medium attainment prior to their school joining an academy the improvement was slightly better though still underwhelming; 60.5 per cent of academy pupils achieved the benchmark, compared to 57.0 per cent in equivalent local authority schools. This is still only an improvement of 3.5%.

With only marginal differences between local authority school results and schools operating under an academy, it’s not difficult to conclude that schools managed by a federation can easily perform as well as academy schools if not better – and without locking into an academy system that is near impossible to leave.



Academies Do Not Offer Guaranteed Results

Though these figures suggest that academies do offer marginal improvement for most pupils, joining an academy (bearing in mind they are difficult to leave) is no guarantee that all schools will achieve even these modest improvements. Some do not improve at all.

In 2016 Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw criticised seven sizeable academy chains for failing to improve the results of too many pupils in their schools, while paying board members large salaries.  – Source:

In 2018 The Guardian report on “The great academy schools scandal”, saying “They were hailed as education’s great leap forward. But across England, the trusts that run them are failing” – Source:

And just last month England’s biggest multi-academy trust is set to hand a struggling Leeds school to another chain, ending a seven-year effort to turn around its fortunes. – Source:


Academies Offer No Greater Funding

Academies are independent, state-funded schools, which receive their funding directly from central government, rather than through a local authority. When academies first launched the deal was sweetened with extra funding, however any extra funding attached to academies has now essentially disappeared.


The Benefits of Joining Cadmus Family Of Schools Federation

As well as enjoying improved results schools, your school will be able to work together with other schools through a single governing body and share resources, staff expertise and best practice.

As a member school you will be able to retain your own name, identity reference number and budget, however have the opportunity to pool staff, facilities and budgets with other schools.

Becoming part of a federation offers children greater social experiences, reduces isolation and widen opportunities for staff professional development – all delivered at greater value for money.

Staff who join a federation do not have to contend with contract changes when they join; all staff are employed on the same conditions of service as they currently are, and by the same employer.