Mainstream Secondary Education

Every child in the United Kingdom (UK) is entitled to a free place at state school from ages 5-16 (GOV, 2022.g). Parents can make preferences on the state school they wish their child to attend; however, schools have control over their admissions, therefore meaning that some children do not meet the school’s criteria (Glatter, 2021). There are several different types of state schools in the mainstream secondary school system, these include: community schools, academies and free schools, University Technical Colleges (UTCs), voluntary aided schools and grammar schools (Eyles and Machin, 2017). This focus of this page is to critically analyse the effectiveness of how state schools are managed, funded, maintained and regulated. Particularly looking at Community schools, Academies, Free schools, UTCs and Grammar schools.

Funding and admissions

Community schools were introduced with the aim of the school being orientated towards the community and were not influenced by religion or faith. They are controlled and ran completely by the Local Authority. This means they own the land and buildings and are wholly responsible for the decisions making regarding the employment of the teaching staff (Remedios and Allen, 2006). Community schools must follow the National Curriculum and conform to the UK National Assessment criteria at all the key stages. Faith schools were introduced with the idea of providing a community for those of a specific faith, and they were able to share a desire to maintain the faith and explore the heritage and culture of their religion whilst still in a learning environment (Parker-Jenkins, Hartas and Irving, 2019). They are ran in a similar way to Community schools, however faith schools reflect the religious beliefs of the school in their admissions criteria, curriculum and staffing choices (Miller, 2011). Academies were introduced by the Labour Government, with the intention to replace failing schools, with many schools joining multi-academy trusts to enable their attainment to rise (West, 2019). Academies were funded directly from the Government and not from the Local Authority, with the aim for the schools to have more control over their own teaching and how they ran, whilst still being funded (Curtis, 2009). Free schools are an autonomous school, they set their own pay and conditions for staff and can change the length of the school day and terms (GOV.UK, 2022.g). These schools can be set up by a range of people including, businesses, charities, universities, parents and teachers (Morris, 2015). There is no need for the teaching staff to have Qualified Teacher Status, and they are funded directly from the government, meaning they have complete control away from the Local Authority (Morris, 2014)

Regulatory bodies

All community schools are inspected by the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) to ensure they are meeting the national targets, as well as making sure the quality of teaching and delivery is high whilst examining how the students are performing. Although they are being assessed on student grades, community schools do not have the ability to choose who attends the schools based on academic ability. However, they do have to give admission priority to students who are in care or being looked after as well as those who have been in care in the past (GOV.UK, 2022.d). Church of England Board of Education (2006) cited by Allen and West (2009) discuss the idea that Faith schools such as Church of England or Catholic schools have a different approach when it comes to the admission criteria. Children must prove they had links to churches, and only 25% of places are allocated to children without links to the church or test of faith (Allen and West 2009). Grammar schools also have a strict admissions criteria, children sit the 11+ exam, with the aim of those who are academically orientated can attend the school as they align with the school’s ethos (Hajar, 2020). 

Teaching at Mainstream Secondary Schools

To teach in a state school in England, you must have a degree and gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) which is achieved by following an Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programme. (UCAS, 2022). However, there are some exceptions; free schools have the option to employ professionals that may be very well qualified in a subject area, despite not holding QTS (Jørgensen and Allen, 2020). As of 2012, the Coalition Government updated their funding agreement used by schools during their conversion to academy status. The changes enabled headteachers of academy schools to employ professionals who they deem to be ‘suitably qualified’ to teach, without the automatic requirement of QTS (Department for Education, 2012). However, some academies may require their teachers to have QTS depending upon their funding agreement (Foster, 2019). For a secondary school teacher to gain QTS, they must hold GCSEs in English and Maths at grade C/ 4 or above. Though, there are several routes that can be taken to enrol on ITT, generally, teachers opt for a ‘school-centred’ route, or a ‘higher education-centred’ route. The school-centred route usually means that undergraduates have enrolled on programmes such as Teach First or Schools Direct Programme.

Conversely, those who opt for higher education-led routes will usually complete their undergraduate studied, followed by a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) (ibid, 2019). There has been a huge shift towards school-led routes since 2010 (Bokhove and Downey, 2018). There has been some debate regarding which route is more effective, however, a study conducted by Brouwer, Downey and Bokhove (2020) found that those who complete their ITT via a school-led route appear to acquire greater social capital, resulting in higher performance during their ITT. The concept of social capital theory relates to the acquisition of resources which are derived from social relationships, further contributing to the cognitive and social development of individuals (Loury, 1987). It is for this reason that it may be viewed as more beneficial for students to opt for a school-based route into teaching. However, university-led ITT must still serve a minimum of twenty-four weeks of school-based placement (Department for Education, 2017).  


A summary of the admissions criteria for each school:

School Type

Admissions Criteria

Community School

  • Catchment zone
  • Family at the school
  • Feeder school
  • Pupil Premium
  • Parent who has worked at the school for 2 years
  • In care/ looked after
  • Have been in care

Grammar Schools (Can be run by the Local Authority, a foundation body or an academy trust)

  • 11+ test
  •  Academic ability

Academies and Free Schools

  • Can select who they would like at the school, but they must meet the mandatory provision so the Schools Admissions Code (The Code).
  • Exceptions depending on where variations have been written into their own funding agreement to allow for fair access

University Technical Colleges

  • Usually accepts students aged 14-16 
  • Does have to adhere to the School’s Admissions Code although it is classed as an academy (DfE, 2015). 


Who are Ofsted?

The Government must ensure all schools are running as effectively as they can, they do this by looking at the League tables as well as having Ofsted inspections in the schools. Ofsted ensures they are meeting the national targets, as well as making sure the quality of teaching and delivery is high whilst examining how the students are performing. Ofsted stands for ‘Office for Standards in Education,’ and aims to inspect, regulate and report back to policymakers about the effectiveness of the services offered (GOV.UK, 2022.a). Ofsted score schools in one of the four categories, those being outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate. Those schools who have been rated Outstanding can use this as a marketing tool, to increase student applications due to a rise of interest from parents and there is a growth in potential teaching staff interested in the schools, consequently house prices around the school can also increase due to popular demand (Stumm et al, 2021).

Routine Ofsted Inspections 

Ofsted can give schools 15 minutes notice before inspections as they are able to judge schools without prior notice (GOV.UK, 2022.b). There are four primary areas in which Ofsted are investigating, the categories are quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development and leadership and management (Bousted, 2020). Schools can be assessed withing five days of the Autumn term starting, and new schools, including academies, are inspected within the first three years of being open. Schools that are awarded outstanding or good, will only receive inspections ever 4 years to confirm the standards are still high, however if there is evidence of the school improving or declining a full investigation is carried out. Schools who are judged as requiring improvement will be inspected within 30 months of the publication of their report, however, schools labelled as inadequate are issued an academy order and is placed in a category of concern. This is in hope that an academy, or an academy trust will take over the school to prevent it closing (GOV.UK 2022.b).

University Technical Colleges

Among the small percentages of state schools which are not yet academised, there are forty-eight University Technical Colleges (UTCs) which offer a secondary age education. Enrolment usually starts at age fourteen, although students can enrol aged sixteen (UTC, n.d). UTCs specialise in specific subjects, usually in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects (Storey, 2018). However, UTC’s have faced criticism for producing poor academic results and for being very much male dominated (Dominguez-Reig and Robinson, 2018). Additionally, less than half of the UTC’s inspected by OFSTED have received ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ reports and one in five received ‘inadequate’ (Robertson, 2017). However, UTCs appear to be more beneficial for students who enrol aged sixteen (Terrier et al., 2020). It is likely that UTC’s will become further education (FE) facilities (Dominguez-Reig and Robinson, 2018), as the academisation of state schools is set to continue (Roberts, 2022).

Table: Eyles and Machin (2019).

The gradual academisation of state schools

As of 2021, 78.5% of all secondary schools in England were academies or free schools (Department for Education, 2021). The introduction of academies and free schools provided a mechanism which enhanced parental choice, competition and autonomy in the English education system (Simon, 2017). In March 2022, the House of Commons Library released a White Paper which proposed that by 2030, every school in England will be a part of a ‘strong trust’. This would mean that all remaining maintained schools would have to change their status (Roberts, 2022). The push for academisation has faced controversy, as the greater autonomy of schools means that academies and free schools have the option to set their own pay and conditions for staff. Additionally, the law which regulates the length of the school day and year does not apply (Wiborg et al., 2017). Furthermore, academics suggests that the push for academisation arguably represents the privatisation of a public service (Ball, 2007; Beckett, 2008; Hatcher, 2008). 

Shah (2018) argues that it is only a matter of time before private providers begin to financially benefit from running schools. The sole reasons behind schools academising were to raise educational standards, or to obtain more funding (Department for Education, 2014). In England, the current ‘average’ GCSE grade in English and Maths is 4.5, which the government aim to increase to 5 through academising (Roberts, 2022). Schools which are ranked ‘inadequate’ by OFSTED are to be sponsored by a Multi Academy Trust (MAT), who are given the responsibility to ensure that the school improves (Hargraeves, 2014). However, there appears to be a lack of consistency in the average performance of academy schools. Some schools which academised pre-2010 are performing above-average, where-as some have declined (Department for Education, 2019). This could indicate that there are other benefits to academising than performance.

Graph: Department for Education (2019).

This graph shows the schools which have become academies and the distribution in grade difference of the pupils’ GCSE results. The graph displays the achieved grades depending on the number of years that a school has academised. From the results, it does not indicate that the length of time a school has been an academy guarantees better GCSE grades. The proposition of all schools becoming academies was centred around attaining higher standards in education (Roberts, 2022). However, the graph suggests that academising does not signify better results.