What did the Sutton Trust say about academies in 2008?

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Academies were a major plank in Labour’s education programme but there had been significant changes to the policy since the 2007 report.

Findings:

1 The picture was mixed about whether academies had raised standards.

2 Academies had increased “diversity” in the sense they were a distinctive type of state school but they were not as distinctive as they were when the programme began.

3 Academies were “inclusive” in one sense: they admitted more disadvantaged pupils than the national average although this proportion had fallen. This suggested that academies were more “inclusive” in another sense: they were admitting pupils from a wider social background.

4 There were concerns about high numbers of exclusions.

5 There were also concerns that some academies wouldn’t meet the deadline of 30% of pupils reaching the benchmark 5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English.

Independence:

1 There have been criticisms that academies were not accountable – they were autonomous and not maintained by local authorities (LAs).

2 But this autonomy had been curtailed by recent changes.

3 Academy Principals were paid an average of £18,000 - £32,000 more than state school heads. This led to concerns that talented heads would be lured away from the maintained sector.

Sponsorship:

1 The power of sponsors was considerable eg they owned the school estate.

Attainment:

1 GCSE attainment tended to have improved at a greater rate than non-academies and among similar schools.

2 But this coincided with a drop in the proportion of disadvantaged pupils.

3 There were still concerns about attainment. In 2007, GCSE results in the majority of academies (26 out of 36 which published results) did not meet the benchmark. Only 12 of the 20 academies who had results over a two year period had increased their performance from the previous year (2006).

Admissions and Inclusion:

1 There had been a fall in the average proportion of disadvantaged pupils in academies from 45.3% in 2003 to 29% in 2008.

Effects on neighbouring schools:

1 The drop in the proportion of disadvantaged pupils in academies did not seem to have affected the composition of intake in neighbouring schools.

Building and costs:

1 Many early academies had building costs which went over budget.

2 Building Schools for the Future (BSF) meant that academies’ distinctive quality of having a new building would be less distinctive as more schools of other types were improved or rebuilt.

Specialisms:

1 Academies tended to focus on a narrow range of subjects.

2 Most popular specialism (just over 50%) was business and/or enterprise.

3 However, this was changing as more academies were established.

Changes to the programme:

1 The type of sponsor was no longer just private sponsorship. New types included universities, independent schools and the growth of academy chains.

2 LAs were becoming more involved.

3 Academies were no longer able to opt out of the National Curriculum.

Emerging models:

It was no longer possible to view academies as a homogenous type. They now included:

1 Replacements for failing schools;

2 New schools in areas of underachievement;

3 Conversion of City Technology Colleges (CTCs) and independent schools;

4 Conversion of failing schools as part of the National Challenge.

Alternatives to Academies:

1 Not all academies had unique characteristics.

2 Other non-academy schools showed some of these unique characteristics.

3 Not all academies had been successful despite having unique characteristics.

4 Non-academies appear to have been successful in similar circumstances.

The report contained Policy Implications. These will be dealt with in a separate faq.

The full report can be downloaded here