Sutton Trust finds almost half of academies are ‘coasting’

24 Jul 15

An analysis of results at more than 150 academy schools in England has concluded that nearly half (44%) would be classed as “coasting” under the government’s proposed education reforms.

The examination by the Sutton Trust of the performance of disadvantaged children in academies also found that 26 of 34 chains had at least one coasting school, based on 2012 performance.

Under the Education and Adoption Bill, schools will be defined as ‘coasting’ where fewer than 60% of children achieve 5 A* to C including English and mathematics and children fall below the median level of expected against eight measures.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan has said that local authority maintained schools deemed to be coasting for three years would be automatically converted to academies.

However, the Sutton Trust stated that today’s Chain Effects research showed the government needed to expand its pool of school improvement providers beyond academy sponsors to include new school-level trusts and federations, and to introduce greater rigour and transparency for all sponsors. New chains should not be allowed to expand until they have a track record of success in bringing about improvement in their existing academies.

The report also called for a new attainment measure for disadvantaged pupils to be included in the criteria for coasting schools

Sutton Trust chair Sir Peter Lampl said the report highlighted examples of outstanding performance in academies. For instance, in 11 of the 34 chains, disadvantaged students in sponsored academies outperformed the average across the country in 2014.

However, the report also found that “many chain sponsors, despite several years in charge of their schools, continue to struggle to improve the outcomes of their most disadvantaged students”

He added: “The distance left to travel has been thrown into stark relief as the government now sets its sights on improving ‘coasting schools’: schools that have failed to improve significantly across three years. The best academies benefit from good leadership and good teaching, which provide an outstanding example to others that continue to face challenges.”

One of the report’s authors, Professor Becky Francis of King’s College London, pointed to the “very significant variation in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, both between and within chains”.

She said: “Some chains continue to achieve impressive outcomes for their disadvantaged students against a range of measures, demonstrating the transformational impact on life chances that can be made.

“However, a larger group of low-performing chains are achieving results that are not improving and may be harming the prospects of their disadvantaged students.”

Commenting on the report, National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower said there was a “blatant hypocrisy at the heart of the government’s education policy”.

She added: “Of those analysed, 44% of academies would be classified as ‘coasting’ according to the definition set by the education secretary as the premise for her Education and Adoption Bill. This seeks to impose academy status upon many more schools, but it is clear from this report that such a change is likely to make the patient worse not better.”

Nansi Ellis, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the government could produce no robust evidence that academies outperform other types of school.

“The Education and Adoption Bill is undemocratic in forcing academisation without consultation and excludes the school from selecting the sponsor that is most appropriate to them.”.

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