A secondary school set up as a trust with private sponsorship and government funding, as part of a government initiative to establish city academies aimed at improving the standards of performance in inner‐city schools in England, particularly in areas of social deprivation. Those who support the initiative, which was introduced in 2002, argue that schools which are well resourced with the latest learning technology will be more likely to succeed in motivating disaffected and disengaged learners; and that the example of success provided by the city academy sponsors themselves will encourage and inspire young people to work hard at school and aspire to worthwhile goals in terms of career and qualifications. It is also suggested that the existence of city academies and the example they set of high pupil achievement will encourage other, competing schools to raise their own standards. The government target is to have established 200 city academies by 2010.
To become an academy, a school is required to raise up to £2 million in private sponsorship. The government then contributes a further sum—usually in the region of £25 million—towards the school's start‐up costs. The establishment of an academy sometimes involves the demolition and replacement of old school buildings on existing sites; or it may involve the creation of an entirely new school. Sponsors may include private business organizations, private schools, religious organizations, and charities. The influence, expertise, and business acumen of such external sponsors is, it is argued, vital to the regeneration and improvement of inner‐city schools. To this end, sponsors occupy the majority of places on the governing body which controls the academy's trust.
Although city academies, like state secondary schools, must follow the national curriculum, they do not have to employ staff who are registered with the General Teaching Council. In effect, this means that their teachers are not required to have full qualified teacher status, and that the academies are not required to adhere to nationally agreed guidelines on teachers' salaries. Teachers' hours and conditions may also vary from those in state schools.
One of the claims made for city academies is that they will create a positive ethos, and that each will have the freedom to establish its own specific ethos, which will be significantly influenced by the values and beliefs of its sponsors. This has led to some criticisms on the grounds that the curriculum could be employed to reflect contentious beliefs, such as that of creationism. The academies have also been criticized on the grounds of their performance, since, in almost half of those established by 2007, pupils' results in the General Certificate of Secondary Education examinations had not improved under the trust arrangement, and, in some, achievement was actually lower than under the state school system.
Although the government requires academies to take pupils of all abilities, the substantial government funding invested in the academies, and the publicity surrounding the implementation of the initiative, has created significant pressure on them to succeed; and this, according to many education commentators, may be why pupil exclusion and expulsion figures for some academies have been relatively high, and why there are fears that the pressure to succeed may result in their seeking to recruit mainly pupils with good test results and with no learning difficulties. At this stage, therefore, educational opinion on the role and principle of city academies is divided. See also academy.