More than half of the pupils in England’s state-funded schools are now educated in academies and free schools.

Figures from the Department for Education (DfE) show that, in October 2018, there were more than 8.1 million pupils in state-funded primary, state-funded secondary, state-funded special, and pupil referral units.

Of those, a little over 4.0 million were studying in an academy or free school — equating to 50.1% and an increase of some 300,000 since January last year. More than 8300 schools in England now have academy or free school status.

Hailing the 50% milestone as a decisive moment, Education Secretary Damian Hinds has urged more schools to consider “the freedom and opportunities offered by becoming an academy”.

That freedom includes being able to alter the length of the school day and adapt the curriculum to meet pupils’ needs, interests and abilities.

“While there is a huge amount of diversity in our school system — and there are great schools of all types — I want more schools to choose to become an academy and enjoy the enormous benefits it provides to schools, their staff and pupils,” Mr Hinds said.

Schools that have chosen to become an academy are known as “converter” academies. Those taken out of local authority control because of educational underperformance are referred to as “sponsored” academies.

The latter have, the DfE points out, seen their performances improve from inadequate to good or outstanding.

At the end of 2017, 10% of sponsored academy predecessor schools were judged good or outstanding — compared to almost 70% after they adopted academy status.

An associated analysis of schools that have become sponsored academies in recent years (available at shows that those that have been open for longer have significantly improved their performance.

The DfE notes that, in many cases, standards have risen more quickly in under-performing schools that have become academies than in similar council-run schools.

Last reviewed 5 February 2019