Academy leaders cast doubt on effect of autonomy

19 Apr 18

A third of academy leaders believe autonomy from local government has made no difference, while almost one in five think its effect has been negative, according to a survey released today. 

Polling by the Sutton Trust found that teachers in both England and the United States are sceptical about measures that have taken schools out of control of local government.

England’s academies and the similar charter schools in the US were intended to drive up standards by giving schools greater autonomy.

Sutton Trust research found 30% of academy leaders in the UK thought this autonomy had made no difference, while 18% felt its impact had been negative.

Of the 42% who thought it had a positive effect, 63% cited freedom over the curriculum taught, 60% control over resources and 51% freedom from local bureaucracy.

Detailed polling of 1,246 teachers and school leaders across England by the National Foundation for Educational Research found only 27% of those working in academies thought the accompanying autonomy had a positive impact in the classroom, and only 8% of staff at other schools thought such autonomy would be beneficial.

Academies are funded directly by Whitehall and have greater independence over their curriculum, budgets, admissions and teachers’ pay than do local authority schools.

Polling results from both countries will be launched in New York today at a meeting to be addressed by former education secretary Justine Greening and Roberto Rodriguez, an education adviser to former president Barack Obama.

The companion survey of 501 American teachers found only 25% felt charter school autonomy - similar to England’s academy status - had a positive impact in the classroom, while 36% thought this had been negative and 20% that it had no affect.

Sutton Trust founder Sir Peter Lampl said: “Today’s polling shows that many academy leaders are sceptical about the benefits of their autonomy. The focus should not be on school structures but on improving the quality of teaching in schools.”

The survey also found that 34% of English school leaders were using the pupil premium to plug budget gaps – up from 30% last year – rather than for its intended purpose of raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

More than 70% of secondary school leaders said they had had to cut teacher numbers over the last year, with a similar proportion having cut teaching assistants or support staff.

Among primary school heads 60% had cut teaching assistants and 24% classroom teachers.

Lampl said: “It is very worrying that schools are losing teachers as a result of spending cuts. The result is that they are also increasingly plugging funding gaps with the pupil premium.”

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