Large-scale practices with an educational bent will be surprised and delighted to hear that the National Audit Office (NAO) has given a clean bill of health to the government's expanding - but controversial - academies programme.
Academies rose to prominence when one of the first - the Bexley Business Academy (pictured) - was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize in 2004.
Several major firms, such as Foster and Partners and Aedas, have proposals in progress for academies across the country, but will have become concerned in recent months by the spate of bad publicity surrounding the initiative.
However, the NAO report released this morning (23 February) will come as some reassurance to these companies, concluding that academies are 'on track to deliver good value for money'. It also indicates that the government's flagship programme is raising attainment in deprived areas.
The Department of Education and Skills has promised to deliver over 200 academies within the next two years - a commitment that will mean a significant income stream for many practices.
The key conclusions of the NAO report are:performance is rising faster than in other types of schools;academies are narrowing the attainment gap by raising the attainment of pupils from deprived backgrounds - academies admit higher proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals and with special educational needs than both the national average and the average in their catchment area;performance is better than their predecessor schools, and pupils' achievements in 2005 and 2006 show a strong trend in rising attainment;academies are popular with parents;academies display the major factors that the NAO consider important to turning around a school's performance - including high-quality leadership and governance, and improved teaching and learning; andacademies are improving attendance faster than other schools.
by Ed Dorrell