Academies failing poorer students, research shows

20 Dec 18

Two-thirds of academy school groups performed below the national average for disadvantaged pupils, according to research released today.

A five-year study by the Sutton Trust educational charity analysed 58 ‘academy chains’ - partnerships between a group of academies – and found in 38 of these disadvantaged pupils performed below the national average for all state schools.

In 12 of the 58 chains analysed, poorer pupils performed above the national average but this good practice had not been shared with other academy chains, the report found. It defined disadvantaged pupils as those entitled to the ‘pupil premium’ - a funding package from central government.

Becky Francis, director of the UCL-Institute of Education and co-author of the report, said it was “perplexing that the government has done so little to explore the methods of these successful chains and to distil learning to support others”.

“Our five year analysis of sponsor academies’ provision for disadvantaged pupils shows that while a few chains are demonstrating transformational results for these pupils, more are struggling,” she said.

Francis said that the government should capitalise on the successes of various schooling organisations including local authorities and multi-academy trusts.

The report found that long-standing academy chains achieve better exam results, with newer chains frequently performing poorly.

Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said: “Two-thirds of academy chains perform below the national average for all state schools on key measures of attainment for disadvantaged young people. Improving their educational achievement was the original reason why academies were set up. In this regard they have not succeeded.

“We at the Sutton Trust are recommending the sharing of good practice of the best academy chains with the rest. More generally schools should make increased use of the body of what works evidence.”

Lampl noted struggling schools are having difficulty attracting and retaining good teachers.

The charity’s report said there is “little to suggest” that regional schools commissioners – who are responsible for approving new academies and intervening in underperforming ones – are bringing about improvements.

RSCs must act “more decisively” with chains that do not deliver improvement on time, the trust said.

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “This research reinforces the compelling need for the government to give councils the powers to improve struggling schools.

“Councils have a strong track record in school improvement, with 91% of council-maintained schools now good or outstanding while evidence shows councils are better at turning around failing schools than those converted to a sponsor-led academy.”

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

An annual report released last month showed that academies in England recorded a £6.1bn deficit in August 2017.

Previously the National Audit Office called on the government to ensure that academies could be trusted to manage large amounts of public money.

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