New Academy Schools: The state of play in Nine Graphs

In 2011, the academy schools programme took off, but where are we now?

It has slowed, but that is hard to see from the overall numbers… So, let’s dive deeper into academy schools and academy trusts and what’s happened since Tony Blair opened the first academy in September 2002.

1. Academy Schools Today

During the noughties, there were no primary or special school academies and less than 200 secondary academies. From 2011 onwards, changes of government policy changed that and the number of academies (of all three types) rose steeply. There are now over:

Graph of Academy School growth (2002 - latest data)

2. Primary Academy Schools

Ministers wanted all schools to be academies by 2022 (Rt Hon Nicky Morgan) and then by 2030 (Baroness Barran), but both plans hit the rocks. So, it’s unsurprising that primary conversions have slowed (even before Covid).

Graph shows number of new primary academies per year from 2002.


3. Secondary Academy Schools

The secondary peak was 6 years before the primary & special school peaks. During the secondary peak in 2011 and 2012, almost a third of secondary schools converted in a two year period. This represented about a million pupils no longer in a local authority school.

There are now only 20% of secondaries that remain local authority (LA) maintained, so it’s understandable that conversions have slowed to a few dozen a year.

4. New Special School Academies

The special school picture is almost identical to primary:

Graph shows number of new special school academies per year since 2002.

5. The Pipeline of Academy Schools

What happens next? Will the lower numbers continue?

Interestingly, there are 767 schools in the DfE ‘pipeline.’ These are schools that are in the process of becoming an academy and the majority are primary. This suggests that future growth will continue to be mostly in the primary phase.

Chart showing proportions of school types in the DfE Academy Pipeline.

6. Who will convert in future?

The number of secondaries left to convert is in decline. Some areas have no secondaries left to convert (e.g. Hull, Middlesboro, Doncaster). Of the remaining LA maintained secondaries, some have chosen to stay maintained (e.g. King Edward VII in Sheffield where a campaign stopped forced academisation in 2023).

Therefore, it looks like any growth would mostly come from the primary phase, where over half of the 16,800 schools remain LA maintained:

7. What about Trusts?

This graph shows the size of 1300+ academy trusts (all of them apart from the biggest 8 trusts which fell off the end of the graph – more on them later).

The most common trust size is 2 schools and 55% of trusts have 5 or fewer academies. Whilst the huge trusts pop up in the news more often, there are only a few dozen, whereas there are over 1000 trusts with 10 or fewer academies.

Graph of number of new academy trusts per year since 2010.

Based on the schools in the current pipeline, it looks like many will join small or medium sized trusts. However, the DfE pipeline only names trusts for sponsored academies (so omits convertor academies). Therefore, it is a narrow data set.

It will be interesting to see how the size of trusts change over the next five years (e.g. will more single-academy trusts merge into other small or medium trusts, will medium sized trusts decide to stick within their region (and avoid expensive four hour round trips between HQ and far-flung schools) or expand more widely?)

8. The Ten Biggest Multi-Academy Trusts in 2023

Whilst there are not many huge trusts, these trusts are still resolutely growing. This brings us onto the biggest trusts.

We could rank by:

Here’s the top ten based on the number of schools in the trust:

Chart shows the top ten academy trusts by the number of schools that they have.

9. Small Academy Trusts

There are new trusts forming but it’s only a handful a year. In 2022, there were only 5 new trusts formed.

So, with a few exceptions, the days of starting your own MAT are over. That means that schools academising will join an existing trust (rather than starting their own).

10. What might affect conversions to become an Academy School?

More to read

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like our overview of school exclusions or, for improving outcomes for vulnerable children, our guide to Children in Care, written in partnership with national charity Become. Alternatively, click here to see all articles.


All data is from the Department for Education academy data with occasional data from the DfE School Census (e.g. overall number of primary schools).

  • Aaron King, Director

    With over 20 years experience of working with children & young people in both mainstream and SEND settings, Aaron King is the driving force behind 9000lives.

    Aaron has written for the TES, including in the Leadership & Governance sections. He has also been a school governor for around 15 years.

  • Aaron King

    Aaron King Director

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