Is it true that schools with more autonomy tend to achieve better results?
Yes. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) wrote, “In countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.”
In 2009, the OECD found that the United Kingdom was one of four countries which granted the greatest freedom to schools: secondary head teachers could allocate resources, recruit staff and make decisions about what subjects and examinations to offer. But the present Government says that schools need to embrace academy conversion to gain autonomy despite OECD found that UK schools already had considerable autonomy before the Coalition came to power.
Academies in chains actually risk losing much of this autonomy as John Burn, OBE, warned in his evidence to the Education Bill Committee. And the National Audit Office expressed concerns about sponsors putting pressure on their academies to purchase services from them when other alternatives might be better value.
UPDATE 16 January 2013. The Academies Commission (2013) found that maintained schools could do most of the things that academies can do. The Commision wrote, “The reality is that the increased [academy] freedoms are not nearly as substantial as is often suggested,”. It also confirmed John Burn's fears: some academies in chains had less autonomy than they enjoyed when they were Local Authority (LA) maintained schools. Other academies complained that the extra bureaucratic burden and legal responsibilities diverted money and attention for their core purpose: providing education.