Research ‘essential’ to reap benefits of autonomous schools while mitigating against negative effects, LSE report says

Janet Downs's picture

The unprecedented expansion of academies via conversion or sponsorship has raised concerns about increased segregation of pupils, researchers* from the London School of Economics (LSE) noted. These worries were partly warranted: the intake of academies which became sponsored after 2010 became skewed towards disadvantaged children while converter academies enrol fewer such children. The authors wrote, ‘This suggests that, at least along this dimension, schools are becoming more stratified.’

More research is needed, the researchers argued, so the alleged benefits of a more autonomous school system can come to the fore and negative effects such as segregation be diminished. The ‘mechanisms’ contributing to this stratification, whether school admission practices or parental choice, need to be examined if policies designed to (allegedly) give schools more autonomy are to have the desired positive effects.

The researchers reminded readers that academies are not one homogeneous group. Labour sponsored academies differ from those which became sponsored during the Coalition years. The academic ‘quality’ of the intake of the former improved after become a sponsored academy more than is the case with the latter. There are, however, enough similarities between the two types of sponsored academies to extrapolate the findings from Labour sponsored academies to Coalition ones.

This is not the case with converter academies, most of which were already Good or better. Lessons cannot be drawn from sponsored academies and applied to converters because ‘there is too little overlap between the nature of these academies and the Labour batch to warrant any meaningful extrapolation.’

This caveat is unlikely to stop politicians and the media doing just that. It’s not the first time LSE researchers have warned not to apply conclusions about Labour academies to the Government’s academies programme. Stephen Machin, one of the co-authors of the research discussed above, complained results from an earlier LSE paper which painted a relatively positive picture of Labour’s academies had been hi-jacked to give support to the Coalition’s academy conversion programme.

However, there is one repeated statement in both LSE papers I take issue with. This is the claim that academies enjoy significantly more freedom than non-academies. This is not true. The Academies Commission (2013) found non-academies can do most things academies can do. The Education Select Committee (2015) confirmed this:

‘The vast majority of academy freedoms are also available to maintained schools, if they choose to exercise them’ (page 21 here).

It’s also becoming increasingly clear that academies in multi-academy trusts (MATs) can have far less freedom than stand-alone academies or schools under local authority stewardship. Such academies can be little more than branches in a chain run from head office – common curriculum, common ‘brand’ and even common ways of teaching.

*Andrew Eyles, Stephen Machin, Olmo Silva, CEP Discussion Paper No 1370 September 2015 Academies 2: The New Batch, downloadable here. Summary by authors in The Conversation.

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Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 18/10/2015 - 19:59

Labour's early sponsored Academies certainly enjoyed uncritical praise from the media, but this was on the back of the vocational scam first exposed by Roger Davies and I in our work for the TES that was featured in the paper on 13 January 2006 and then available on the TES website. Our TES journalist co-worker was Warwick Mansell.

This work was summarised in this article that you can access free at

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 08:11

Roger - thanks for the link to your paper. It adds to the evidence that deception about academies has been going on since they were first established.

Your argument that early sponsored academies existed to provide children with 'skills' needed by a particular sector of employment appears to be confirmed by the interest taken by Boris Johnson in London academies via The Mayor's Academies Limited. Two of the academies were Aylward Academy and Nightingale Academy. 'At the core of their curriculum is a focus on ensuring pupils leave with the skills employers desire', the Enfield Independent said, and pupils would be guaranteed employment with the London Development Agency.

The Mayor's Academies Limited was dissolved in Feb this year. It's unclear whether the above guarantee of employment still holds.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 13:09

I have very largely desisted from commenting on Furness Academy in Barrow-in-Furness. This is because I was heavily involved in the local campaign to prevents its creation and the resulting closure of three predecessor schools. Two have since been demolished with large parts of their formerly community owned sites including extensive playing fields being sold for private housing developments. The third school, where I was head until 2003 has lain empty since the Academy came into existence in 2009. It has a listed main building and so cannot be demolished.

As soon as Furness Academy opened, our opposition group dissolved itself, as although we fought the Academy proposal, we felt that it was important that it should succeed. It has not, having been in various levels of crisis since opening. The latest development is that the original sponsors, Furness College (former FE College), Barrow Sixth Form College, and the University of Cumbria have been removed. The new sole Sponsor is BAE Systems, the nuclear submarine manufacturer and main employer in the town.

I wish Furness Academy well. How could anyone not? The children of Barrow need it and the town needs it to be successful.

However we now not only have a Company Town in employment terms, but what should be the largest secondary school (originally planned for 1200 11-16 pupils) is now the Company School. Our local Labour Council, Labour MP and many parents appear to welcome this.

But I believe that our state schools were created primarily for the benefit of pupils, not the needs of employers. While there can and should be lots of overlap I am very uneasy about a Company run Independent Academy School having such a dominant position in the education system of a Company Town.

Before the Academy plan came into effect Barrow had four 11-16 LEA/LA comprehensives with one 11-16 RC school feeding what was once an LEA/LA Sixth Form College and an LEA controlled College of Further education. This was a unified and effective system under local democratic control and accountability.

Are we really now in a better place with regards to the educational opportunities at secondary level in Barrow-in Furness?

Is this the future for our industrial towns and cities?

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