Two thirds of Academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils

By Agencies
December 21, 2018

Two-thirds of academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils, according to new analysis by the Sutton Trust. The research, authored by Professor Merryn Hutchings and Professor Becky Francis, analysed the performance of disadvantaged students – those entitled to the pupil premium – in 2017, and over the five years of its Chain Effects series.

Poorer pupils in 12 out of 58 chains analysed performed above the national average on key measures of 2017 attainment for disadvantaged pupils, including three chains – City of London, Diocese of London, and Harris – which were significantly above the average. However, in 38 of the 58 chains analysed, disadvantaged pupils performed below the national average for all state schools.

Sponsor-led academies have been promoted by successive governments as a way to improve the educational achievement of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As the academies programme has developed, policymakers have increasingly seen multi-academy trusts (MATs) as the best way of working to improve the performance of previously struggling schools and the educational outcomes of their often disadvantaged pupils.

However, the Sutton Trust’s five-year analysis highlights how much inconsistency there is between chains and overall how they perform below the national average for all state schools. It finds there is the same small group of chains that consistently outperform the national average for disadvantaged pupils, while another small group of chains remain at the bottom of the table each year, and there is little to suggest that the Regional Schools Commissioners are having any success in bringing about improvement. A small number of chains have shown consistent year on year improvement in the ranking, demonstrating that improvement is possible, for example the Grace Foundation, while others have fallen or fluctuated.

The report highlights some chains entering high numbers of pupils to the EBacc qualification, many of whom fail to achieve the required number of pass marks. Unnecessarily entering students who are unlikely to succeed for this optional qualification can be harmful.

The report also demonstrates that it is long-standing academy chains who show better exam results, with newer chains frequently performing poorly, indicating that it takes time for a new trust to establish effective practices in the schools it takes over.

To make sure that the academies programme realises its goal of improving outcomes for all disadvantaged children, the report is urging Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) to act more decisively with chains that do not deliver improvement over time. In addition, the government must recognise the challenge of limited capacity in the system and allow RSCs to draw on all successful providers with good track records, including local authorities.

The report is also recommending that the Government, and the National and Regional Schools Commissioners to do more to create mechanisms that spread good practice from the best academy chains to the rest.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said: “Two-thirds of academy chains perform below the national average for all state schools on key measures of attainment for disadvantaged young people.  Improving their educational achievement was the original reason why academies were set up. In this regard they have not succeeded.

“We at the Sutton Trust are recommending the sharing of good practice of the best academy chains with the rest. More generally schools should make increased use of the body of what works evidence.  Also, there should be strenuous efforts in struggling schools to attract and retain good teachers and those teachers in subjects where there are shortages.”

Professor Becky Francis, Director of the UCL-Institute of Education, said: “Our five year analysis of sponsor academies’ provision for disadvantaged pupils shows that while a few chains are demonstrating transformational results for these pupils, more are struggling. We continue to find it perplexing that the Government has done so little to explore the methods of these successful chains and to distil learning to support others. We continue to call for this, and to call for the Government to capitalise on the successes of a range of schooling organisations, whether MATs or Local Authorities, in order to do the best we can for all pupils.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union said: “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. This report conclusively shows that the expansion of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) under the academy programme has not delivered on what it was supposed to. In fact it’s done the opposite, with two-thirds of academy chains performing below the national average for disadvantaged pupils.

“The haphazard efforts by successive governments to build some sort of structure to support academies has resulted in the entirely ineffectual but bloated bureaucracy of the regional schools commissioners (RSCs). This report concludes that there is little evidence they are having any success in bringing about improvement and yet their budgets increase year on year, with over £30 million spent on their staffing last year.

“The Government should reflect on what impact their dysfunctional system is having on children, parents and schools staff across the country. Now is the time to admit failure and move on. It is time to stop focusing on trying to find new sponsors for schools when clearly the system of MATs is not working. A first step would be to allow schools who have been failed by academy trusts to go back to their local authorities when they choose. But what is needed in the long run is a wholesale return of schools to a system of democratic oversight and support.”

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “This research reinforces the compelling need for the Government to give councils the powers to improve struggling schools.

“Councils have a strong track record in school improvement, with 91 per cent of council-maintained schools now good or outstanding while evidence shows councils are better at turning around failing schools than those converted to a sponsor-led academy. 

“Across the country, hundreds of schools, often in disadvantaged areas, are already being turned around thanks to the intervention of councils to deliver and maintain strong leadership, outstanding classroom teaching and appoint effective support staff and governors.

“It is only by working with councils and giving them the necessary powers, rather than shutting them out, that we can meet the challenges currently facing the education system. If that means councils setting up their own multi-academy trusts then they should be able to do so.”

* National Education Union https://neu.org.uk/

* Read the report Chain effects 2018 here

* The Sutton Trust https://www.suttontrust.com/

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