Sutton Trust: academies are not helping disadvantaged children enough

7 Jul 16

One in five sponsored academy chains are performing “significantly below” the national average for attainment by disadvantaged pupils, according to a report by the Sutton Trust.

The think-tank examined the performance of disadvantaged students – those entitled to the pupil premium – in sponsored academies in 39 chains from 2013-2015.

The report, Chain Effects 2016, it found that 8 out of 39 schools were substantially underperforming compared to the national average for disadvantaged pupils.

However, 7 out of 39 schools performed substantially above the national average for all mainstream schools (all state-funded secondary schools and academies).

According to report author, Professor Becky Francis, director of the UCL-Institute of Education, these results “risks replicating the historic patchiness of the English education system.”

The report contains an index comparing the chains’ 2015 performance for disadvantaged pupils on attainment measures including the percentage achieving five A*-C grade GCSEs or equivalent, those making expected progress in English and Maths, and overall performance on their eight best GCSEs.

Chains that were reportedly performing to a high standard were ARK schools, Outwood Grange Academies Trust and the Diocese of London.

Among the eight chains that were performing below average for attainment and improvement were Aldridge, David Ross Education Trust, Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust and the Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust.

The trust’s report is published on the same day as a new review by the Education Policy Institute, an independent research institute, comparing pupil performance in multi-academy trusts with those in local authority schools.

In a statement, the Sutton Trust observed that over the course of the three-year period of its analysis, there had been “little change in the rankings of different chains.”

It stated that along with the EPI, it was calling for ”urgent action from policymakers to ensure academies fulfill their policy objectives and improve standards for disadvantaged students.”

Responding to the report, Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary for policy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “The… research shows yet again that changing a school into an academy does not of itself improve pupils’ performance, particularly that of the most disadvantaged children.”

It added that the government should stop diverting schools’ attention away from teaching children by “forcing all schools in England to spend time and resources converting into academies.”

Ellis urged the government to see how best schools improve the attainment of their poorest pupils and consider how good practice can be shared between schools.

Meanwhile the chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, Roy Perry, said: “Councils have long been highlighting that school structures are not a magic bullet to improve education and what really matters is outstanding teaching and strong leadership.”

He said that every school and community was different, and head teachers needed the freedom to choose the most appropriate structure, in partnership with parents and councils.

Perry raised a concern that while £600m is being cut from the Education Services Grant, the same amount is now available to finance academy conversions and support multi-academy trusts. 

He urged the government to focus on more pressing matters, such as the shortage of teachers and school places, rather than forcing schools to convert to academies.

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