Last week's Education Policy Institute report is an addition to the growing body of evidence that Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) do not result in improved school performance:
"The analysis we have produced casts doubt on the Government's previous policy of academising all schools. It is not clear what the gains from this would be in terms of school performance, not least for schools in high-performing local authorities."
The report includes a foreword from David Laws, who was part of the coalition that promoted academisation so strongly. It is written by Jon Andrews. According to his bio, Jon worked as a statistician at the Department for Education from 2003 to 2016, including having been the "lead statistician on academies" and having played a role in the recent white paper.
The report makes clear that, overall, MATs underperform compared to local authorities (p27):
The report also analyses improvement in performance. Here secondary MATs also underperform though it finds that improvement in primary MATs is as good as local authorities.
Given the data, the conclusions are inevitably opposed to mass academisation: "moving from a school in a high-performing local authority to a school in a low-performing multi-academy trust would appear to risk a significant decline in progress and attainment".
It is tempting to comment on the change in analysis by the author since leaving the DfE. However this would be inaccurate. While ministers have cherry-picked nuggets of data that appear to show academies in a good light, the actual analysis by DfE statisticians is completely in line with this report.
The DfE analysis of academy chains in March 2015, produced while Jon was still at the DfE, found that only 3 of the top 20 chains created value added above the national average in their secondary schools. And the follow-up released at the same time as the EPI report came to remarkably similar conclusions: It found 54% of MATs had performance "signficantly below average" for secondary schools, with only 24% being "significantly above average".
When we started producing analysis of the relative performance of academies, there was considerable debate about whether academies or local authority maintained schools performed better. That debate appears to be over, at least among those who analyse the data. Neither the DfE's own statisticians nor independent bodies like the Education Policy Institute claim that, overall, Multi-Academy Trusts perform better. Indeed at secondary level at least it seems clear that MATs underperform. Both the DfE and the EPI find that the majority of secondary MATs are "signficantly below average" in their performance.
The analysis effectively confirms that the focus on structure has been a huge diversion. Is it too much to hope that the new Secretary of State will study the data and conclude that a change of course is needed? It is time to start focusing on the things that actually make a difference, like leadership, quality of teaching and a positive learning culture in schools.