Stories + Views
Academy conversion shouldn’t be regarded as a solution for diverse educational problems – 2007 research warned
Another report about academies which seems to have been ignored is the Sutton Trust Report 2007. It found that most of the published research into academies was “broadly positive” but it did not fully endorse the policy. The report found:
1 The rise in achievement in academies coincided with a fall in the number of pupils eligible for free school meals. However, this was not necessarily a bad thing. If academies attracted a broader social mix this could contribute to a “critical mass” of advantaged pupils. [OECD found that all pupils tend to do better in schools with a majority of advantaged pupils]. Nevertheless, there were dangers that a large influx of advantaged pupils could push the poorer ones out. This would undermine one of the central aims of the academy programme: to help disadvantaged children.
2 The majority of academies didn’t meet the then benchmark of 30% of pupils gaining 5+ GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English.
3 Non-academies appeared to be equally successful in similar circumstances.
4 Academies had qualities which were not unique to academies eg specialism. Most secondary schools had specialisms.
5 The emergence of chains was a “potentially interesting and valuable development” but not if individual academies lost autonomy if decisions were made centrally.
6 The academy programme had been contentious. It had attracted accusations that particular sponsors promoted creationism, become embroiled in the “cash for honours” scandal and given rise to concerns about accountability.
7 That concerns expressed about what would happen if a sponsor wished to withdraw had not been addressed.
8 Particular Governance arrangements in academies, whereby sponsors report directly to the Secretary of State, can cause problems.
9 Testing for “fair banding” could act against the interests of poorer children who lived near the academy if it had to recruit from a wider area in order to fill each ability band.
10 The Public Accounts Committee had queried whether academy conversion was value for money.
The report warned that “Academies are in danger of being regarded by politicians as a panacea for a broad range of educational problems… conversion to an academy may not always be the best route to improvement.”
This Government has ignored this warning – its website continues to promote academy conversion as the only possible way in which to raise standards, tackle underachievement, raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, encourage social mobility, introduce innovative teaching methods and propel England back up the international league tables.
But academy conversion is not a universal remedy.