Many previously underperforming non-academy schools in poor areas did just as well as similar academies, says report

Janet Downs's picture
Note: The Academies Commission’s findings were based on results for 2011. The 2012 schools performance table had not been published when the Commission reported. Words in brackets are the author’s comments.

Many previously underperforming non-academy schools in disadvantaged areas have done just as well as similar academies, the Academies Commission reported. Results in sponsored academies were slightly lower than similar non-academy schools when equivalent (non-GCSE) exams were removed from the figures.

The only sponsored academies that improved more than similar non-academies were those which had already benefited from the City Challenge, the Commission found. (A DfE report found that the City Challenge was more successful than the sponsored academy programme in raising performance.) Change took time to show results, however. Results increased more the longer an academy had been in existence (but is this also true for previously under-performing non-academy schools?).

The Commission noted it was difficult to discover how far improvements in performance could be explained by a changing intake in sponsored academies. Some researchers found a decline in the proportion of disadvantaged pupils.

In November 2012, there were 1920 converter academies and 536 sponsored academies, the Commission said. Many converter academies were previously Good or Outstanding and had become stand-alone academies. However, the Commission discovered that some converters felt “forced” to become academies, others had “jumped into the arms of a sponsor chain” before they were pushed while some schools converted because they wanted to work with schools that were in a particular chain.

Most converter academies already had above-average results and scored higher on the EBacc measure than other schools, the Commission wrote. And they had fewer disadvantaged pupils and fewer Black and minority ethnic pupils than the national average. The Commission feared converter academies that had previously been judged Good or Outstanding could be complacent particularly as they are exempt from routine Ofsted inspections. It noted that although converter academies were supposed to support weaker schools, “relatively few” actually did so.

(The Academies Commission report is not a ringing endorsement of the Academy programme and contradicts Government spin about its success.  The Government has still not responded to the Commission's report.)

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