WE were told that the drive to convert schools into academies would boost choice, results and quality.

However, a new study by the London School of Economics casts doubt on the Government’s determination to see all state schools in England pushed towards academy status.

Ministers argue that academies drive up standards by putting more power in the hands of headteachers over things such as pay, length of the school day and term times. They have more freedom to innovate and can opt out of the national curriculum.

The authors of the LSE report looked at the results of primary schools that changed from being maintained by local authorities to being academies run by autonomous trusts, and found no improvement compared with similar schools that converted later.

Academies are independent, state-funded schools, which receive their money from central government, rather than via a local authority. The researchers found that the more generous funding given to academies, which was to replace the services provided by local authorities, was largely being used to meet administration costs rather than being spent in the classroom or on frontline services.

The original ideal behind the academies policy, which originated under Labour, sounded sensible. It aimed to improve struggling schools, primarily in deprived areas. But it has changed radically to embrace all types of schools, successful or otherwise and it has opened the door for private operators to seize control of the school system. The academies programme has also been criticised for a lack public accountability.

What matters most in any state-backed school system is whether it can improve standards while delivering value for the taxpayer.

If academies fail those tests then it begs the question what are they for?