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The government has announced that all schools are to be forced to become academies. However the data is clear: sponsored academies underperform compared to non-academies. At both primary and secondary level they are more likely to become, or remain, "inadequate" and their results, on average, increase at a slower rate. On every measure, at primary and secondary level, schools perform better if they remain in the maintained sector rather than become sponsored academies.
Ofsted ratings: Sponsored academies mean more "inadequate" schools
If the past performance of the sector is any judge of what will happen, the result of forcing all schools to become academies will be thousands of extra pupils remaining in schools rated "inadequate". Indeed the best estimate is that there will be 49,000 extra pupils in "inadequate" schools as a direct result as a result of conversion of schools to become sponsored academies.
The reason the difference is so great is because of the impressive performance of local authorities. Of 331 maintained primary schools that were rated "inadequate" at their last inspection, and did not become academies, only 2 remained "inadequate" at their next inspection, on average within 21 months.
This article is essentially a summary of our key findings on what the data says about the performance of sponsored academies. All the analysis points to one clear conclusion, that conversion to become a sponsored academy, on average, slows the progress of a school. All of this analysis is based on DfE or Ofsted data and none of it has been challenged by the DfE or by supporters of government policy. Indeed it is three years since the DfE was able to produce any data suggesting that sponsored academies did as well or better than maintained schools, when schools are compared on the basis of a similar starting point.
The problem is specific to sponsored academies, those schools that were seen as underperforming and that have become part of Multi Academy Trusts, also known as academy chains. Converter academies, where schools maintain their independence, do not have the same level of problems.
Last week the Ofsted Chief Inspector, Michael Wilshaw, was scathing in his critique of seven Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs). His letter to the Secretary of State refers to "serious weaknesses that were contributing to poor progress and outcomes for too many pupils", "lack of leadership capacity and strategic oversight", "ineffective monitoring of individual academies" and states that "much more needs to be done to reduce the variation in standards between the best and the worst academy trusts".
If the future is for all schools to become academies then the question of how to improve the performance of sponsored academies and multi-academy trusts is an urgent one. Fortunately we have examples of successful educational provision to learn from. The DfE should launch an immediate study of high-performing maintained schools, and high-achieving local authorities (while they still exist), to find the secrets of their success. It is crucial to see if any of these lessons can be applied to turn round the majority of sponsored academies that are poor performing.
The central challenge for English schools is now arguably the poor performance of sponsored academies, when compared to similar local authority schools. While government policy is based on an ideological objection to local authorities, the data is clear. Indeed it is hard to think of any educational policy in living memory more likely to lead directly to worse performance for schools.