This report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) examines the impact of academy chains and local authorities on pupil attainment, by comparing school performance in these groups.
Using the latest data, School Performance in Academy Chains and Local Authorities – 2017 looks at the performance of academy chains and local authorities at primary and secondary level.
To accurately assess school quality in these school groups, the research measures how each group fares with pupil improvement and, for the first time, takes into account characteristics such as pupil prior attainment and levels of disadvantage, as well as the historic performance of a school. This allows for a clear measure of performance, undistorted by schools’ differing pupil intakes.
Since their introduction academies have been a controversial element of the school system, representing one of the biggest changes in English education over the last two decades. By the end of the last academic year, over two thirds of secondary schools and over a quarter of primary schools had academy status.
Overall school performance: academy chains vs. local authorities
- Overall, we find little difference in the performance of schools in academy chains and local authorities. The type of school – academy or local authority – is therefore less important than being in a high performing school group.
- Indeed, we find that both academy chains and local authorities feature at the very top of our performance tables, and at the very bottom.
- At primary (KS2), the difference in pupil improvement between the highest and lowest performing groups is well over two points on the new national curriculum assessments – the equivalent of over a full term’s progress.
- At secondary (KS4), the difference in pupil improvement between the highest and lowest performing groups is equivalent to half a grade in each GCSE subject.
Primary school performance
Examining the impact that both school types have on pupil improvement, and accounting for pupil characteristics, we find:
- Local authorities make up 15 of the top 20 school groups at Key Stage 2. This is slightly higher than would be expected, taking into account the total number of local authorities and academy chains.
- The highest performing local authorities are still largely dominated by London and include Kensington and Chelsea, Greenwich and Hammersmith and Fulham. Redcar and Cleveland is the highest performing local authority outside of London at Key Stage 2.
- The highest performing academy chain is the Harris Federation and is the only academy chain amongst the top 10.
- Conversely, the lowest performing local authorities are Bedford, Poole and Rutland. Poole and Rutland authorities were also in the similar position in 2015 rankings.
- Academy chains are over-represented in the lowest performing groups. In the bottom 20 of all school groups, 11 are academy chains.
- The lowest performing academy chains include Wakefield City Academies Trust and the Education Fellowship Trust. Both of these trusts have subsequently relinquished all of their schools.
Secondary school performance
Assessing academy chains and local authority performance at Key Stage 4, using our improvement measure, we find:
- Academy chains feature heavily in the top 20 performing school groups: 14 of the top 20 are academy chains.
- The highest performing academy chain is the Rodillian Academy. The highest performing large trusts are Outwood Grange and the Harris Federation.
- The highest performing local authorities include Brent, Hackney and Kingston-upon-Hull. Of the six local authorities that are in the top 20, five are in London.
- The lowest performing academy chains at Key Stage 4 include the Bright Tribe Trust, the Hart Schools Trust and the Education Fellowship Trust. The Bright Tribe Trust has relinquished all but one of its schools in the north of England whilst keeping its schools in the south.
- The lowest performing local authorities include Nottingham, Southend-on-Sea and Barnsley. Subsequently, more schools in Nottingham have become academies, and today only one local authority maintained secondary school remains.
Policy implications and recommendations
When we compare these latest results with those from our report on performance in 2015, we find cases of sustained underperformance in both academy chains and local authorities.
Chains such as the Greenwood Academies Trust have struggled with performance at secondary level – consistently ranking near the bottom of performance tables.
The Education Fellowship Trust was bottom of the table at primary in 2015 and amongst the lowest performers at secondary. While all of the schools of this group are set to be relinquished, in cases such as this, the process of placing failing academies under new oversight has been slow. The uncertainty caused by such delays is likely to have a detrimental impact on schools in terms of their admissions, and teacher retention and recruitment.
Similarly, some local authorities have been consistently struggling with their performance. Kirklees, Dorset, Walsall, Rutland, and Poole authorities have shown sustained underperformance at primary.
Nottingham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Wolverhampton local authorities, continue to linger in the bottom ten performers at secondary. While secondary provision in Nottingham is now predominantly academies, the government is nevertheless restricted in its options for intervention at local authority level, following its decision to drop measures to force academisation in low performing areas.
Given these findings, EPI makes the following recommendations in its report:
1. The government should identify those academy chains where there is a significant risk of failure and build sponsor capacity in those geographical areas that are at risk from chain failure before it occurs.
If the academy system is to function effectively there needs to be a better understanding of where failure may happen in future and ensuring capacity is available in other trusts before it occurs.
2. To provide increased system capacity, the government should allow high performing local authorities to take over schools from underperforming academy chains.
In some instances it may be appropriate for schools to return to local authority oversight in the same way that a school may be moved to a high performing academy chain. This would provide additional capacity within the system and would go some way to reducing the time taken to move an academy.
3. Poorly performing local authorities should be challenged with school level interventions in some cases.
Whilst the government does not have the power to force academisation in consistently poor performing areas, it should scrutinise and challenge those local authorities through the Regional Schools Commissioners to ensure that schools receive the support required. The government should also consider how they can intervene at an individual school level in these areas.
4. The government should continue to publish performance information at academy chain level and also publish information on local authority performance.
If the system is to be effective it needs a good, and consistent, understanding of where high and low performance is occurring. The government should continue to release performance information at academy chain level, and reconsider its decision not to publish comparable information on the performance of local authorities.
Since the publication of this report, an issue with the underlying Department for Education data for the Askel Veur trust has been brought to our attention. This issue means that the calculated performance data for this group is unreliable. We have therefore taken the decision to remove Askel Veur from this report. We are happy to make this amendment.
> Download: Word document containing all charts and graphs from report as images.