Little difference between academies and LA schools at GCSE, report confirms

Janet Downs's picture

‘…studies of the impact of the academies programme show little difference between the performance of academies and local authority maintained schools,’ says the Sutton Trust in Chain Effects 2018, its analysis of sponsored academy performance in multi-academy trusts. 

Today’s media is full of articles such as ‘Academy chains underperforming for disadvantaged children’ (Guardian) and ‘Poor failed’ (Sun )  But these articles are exaggeration.

Based on Progress 8 figures for 2017, the Sutton Trust found 31 of the 58 academy trusts surveyed had average and above P8 scores for disadvantaged pupils in their sponsored academies.   19 had above average P8 scores for disadvantaged students and six had well above average P8 scores for these pupils.

This is not an abject failure.  But neither is it an overwhelming success.   And it certainly doesn’t show ‘we’re beginning to see the evidence that MATs can have a transformational effect on life chances.’  That claim is made by Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (formerly FASNA) in TES.  

Cruddas lists ‘eight facts’ which support her claim.  Two of the facts aren’t from the report: one is from NFER and the other is Cruddas’s opinion based on a Sutton Trust recommendation. 

Of the rest, one lifts a comment about how ‘early results’ show rebrokering ‘may be effective’.   It’s not clear how many transferred academies, if any, had been sponsored by MATs long enough to be included in the survey.  But this speculation on the part of Sutton Trust is presented as confirmation of MATs’ effectiveness. 

Four are positive findings from the report but one, the first, potentially undermines Cruddas’s argument.  She draws attention to the 15 trusts which ‘achieved truly impressive outcomes for disadvantaged pupils on attainment and progress measures.’  This suggests the remaining 43 had less than impressive results.

Chain Effect stresses ‘some academy trusts perform better than others’ at GCSE.  This is not surprising.  The same can be said of stand-alone academies and schools maintained by local authorities.

But it should be remembered that academization has been sold as the best way of improving schools and raising results.   Chain Effects 2018 shows this is not the case.  As the National Education Union says: 

The foundational myth of the academies programme – that it would boost educational attainment among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds – must now be laid to rest as just that: a myth.

No amount of appeals not to focus on ‘unhelpful accusations and soundbites’ alters that fact.


UPDATE 16.19 20 December.   The DfE has responded to media comments about the Sutton Trust report.  It quotes schools minister Lord Agnew@

'...the hard work and dedication of teachers and schools leaders – alongside the freedom and autonomy the academy model offers – can continue to drive school improvement and improve pupil outcomes.'

 This implies teachers and school leaders can only improve schools if they work in academies.  This insults the teachers who work in non-academies which are still the majority of schools.


Note:  The Sutton Trust bases its analysis on exam results.  This is potentially unreliable.  Exam results don’t necessarily reflect education quality.  And judging school success on test results can hide negative practices such off-rolling, gaming and, in the case of MATs, dropping poor-performing schools.

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John Mountford's picture
Thu, 03/01/2019 - 20:23

Lord Agnew maybe didn't read the whole report, or maybe he's caught the Gibb the Glib's pathetic habit of totally ignoring those facts he does not like. This is what Sutton Trust actually says about "the freedom and autonomy the academy model offers" -
" many MATs now require their academies to adopt a prescribed curriculum and practices, and the academies thus have little or no autonomy. Sir David Carter, in an interview with Schools Week, acknowledged that this reduces autonomy at school level: ‘A lot of CEOs have woken up to the reality that the strongest practice in a trust needs to be trust-wide – by definition, that gets in the way of
autonomy. The proof is in outcomes.’ Given the OECD conclusion that greater autonomy at school level results in better performance, it is a concern that that so many disadvantaged pupils are in schools with little or no autonomy. This loss of autonomy arises from the legal structure of MATs. Schools in MATs no longer exist as legal entities and cannot decide to leave the MAT. Amanda Spielman, Chief
Inspector, has argued that this is not widely understood."

The report also says, "The Chain Effects reports focus on disadvantage, because a key aspect of the creation of sponsored academies was the assumption that they would ‘break the cycle of disadvantage’. The attainment of disadvantaged pupils has been consistently lower than that of their peers, and their progress less rapid."

A note to his misinformed lordship, then - it is no more than an assumption that the cycle of disadvantage could be broken by introducing costly and questionable structural reforms based on nothing more substantial than the ideological bias of his and previous governments. Get it sorted!!!

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