Academy leaders 'sceptical about academy freedoms'

By agency reporter
April 23, 2018

Nearly half of academy leaders in England believe that the autonomy associated with their status has either had no effect or a negative impact in the classroom, according to new polling for the Sutton Trust.

The polling of 1,246 teachers and school leaders across England by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that although 42 per cent of the sample of 143 academy leaders said academy autonomy had a positive effect in the classroom, 30 per cent believed their autonomy had ‘no effect’ and 18 per cent said it had a negative effect.

The polling showed that only 27 per cent of all those – including teachers and leaders – who work in academies thought that their autonomy had a positive impact in the classroom, while only eight per cent of staff at non-academy schools saw academy autonomy as beneficial.

The polling was published ahead of a Sutton Trust summit in New York which drew on international evidence on the role of school structural reform, accountability, professional development and the use of research in schools in improving social mobility.

Academies have greater autonomy over the curriculum, school budgets, admissions (within the statutory code) and teachers’ pay than other state-funded schools. They are also funded directly by Whitehall rather than through the local authority.

Of those who did see a positive effect, most cited freedom on the curriculum (63 per cent) and control over resources (60 per cent). Almost half (47 per cent) of those questioned cited the benefits of more collaboration with schools, perhaps reflecting the influence of the growth in multi-academy trusts, and 50 per cent control over learning programmes. Senior leaders also cited freedom from local bureaucracy (51 per cent).

A survey of 501 public school teachers across the United States by YouGov, found that one in four (25 per cent) of US public school teachers surveyed felt that charter school autonomy had a positive effect on the day to day life of teachers in the classroom, with 36 per cent negative, while 20 per cent felt it had no effect.

The new polling also shows that schools in the United Kingdom are increasingly using the pupil premium to plug funding gaps resulting from the real terms spending cuts facing many schools. One in three senior leaders (34 per cent) say the pupil premium is being used to plug gaps in their budget, up from 30 per cent last year.

Over 70 per cent of secondary school leaders say that their schools have had to cut teachers over the last year, with a similar proportion saying the same about teaching assistants or support staff. Staff cuts are lower, but also on the rise in primary schools with 60 per cent cutting teaching assistants and 24 per cent classroom teachers.

Sir Peter Lampl, Founder of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said, “Today’s polling shows that many academy leaders are sceptical about the benefits of their autonomy. The focus should not be on school structures but on improving the quality of teaching in schools. The evidence from work by the Sutton Trust and by the Education Endowment Foundation shows overwhelming that improving quality of teaching is the key to boosting standards for all pupils and disadvantaged pupils in particular.

“It is very worrying that schools are losing teachers as a result of spending cuts. The result is that they are also increasingly plugging funding gaps with the pupil premium.”

* Sutton Trust


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.