Forcing schools to become academies will mean more "inadequate" schools and worse results

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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

  • "Inadequate" primary schools are twelve times as likely to remain "inadequate" if they become sponsored academies (more here)
  • "Inadequate" secondary schools are four times as likely to remain "inadequate" if they become sponsored academies

  • Both primary and secondary schools are also more than twice as likely to become "inadequate" if they are not already, if they are sponsored academies (more here)

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.

Exam results: Sponsored academies mean slower improvement  

  • Primary schools: the 2015 DfE data shows that non-academies increase their results significantly more than sponsored academies.  Between 2014 and 2015, non-academies improved by 6.4% pts more than similar sponsored academies and this difference was statistically significant at the 99% level. More here.

  •  Secondary schools: the 2015 DfE data: when compared to similar sponsored academies, maintained schools improved their results at a faster rate for all groups. More here.  

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.

  • DfE analysis last year revealed that of the top 20 Multi-Academy Trusts, only 3 achieve value-added for their pupils that are above the average. 17 of the 20 achieve below average value added. Though it is true that the best two MATs achieve results that are almost as good as the best local authorities. More here

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".

  •  While the government ignores the data, it is good to see that Lucy Powell is aware of it. She responded to Wilshaw's letter with the comment: "As the government continues, without evidence, with its agenda to turn all schools into academies and no systems of local oversight to spot and challenge underperformance early, these problems will only get worse, impacting on standards."

Sponsored academy underperformance; what is to be done?

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.



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