© 2015 British Educational Research Association. The article analyses the redefinition and distribution of powers between central governance and local actors in English independent state-funded schooling. Earlier research on governance confirms the importance of the local and the school level in reshaping national-level reforms and steering policies. The research draws on data from interviews with national-level policymakers and an ethnographic school case study, thereby yielding contrasting views and perceptions of governance at the national level, and the day-to-day reality at the local level. The empirical analysis gives mixed results in that the national visions of innovative local practices seem not to be manifest at the local level. Despite the legal and financial freedoms granted to academy schools, the case academy is constrained by the national policy of steering by evaluation, namely inspection and testing, and the managerial practices of the sponsor. The article concludes that the real effect of academies is still under construction and meanwhile their space for action is strongly restricted by the tools of evaluation. As a more theoretical conclusion the analysis suggests that future analysis should concentrate more on action rather than structures and on evaluation as an embedded practice.