The slideshow for the conference can be downloaded by clicking “Download Report”


Yesterday the Education Policy Institute, in partnership with the Sutton Trust, hosted the ‘Academies: 15 years on’ summit. This was an opportunity for researchers, policy makers and system leaders to come together and consider the latest evidence on the impact of academies on pupil outcomes and what Government should do now.

I presented findings from our first annual report on the performance of schools within multi-academy trusts and local authorities including league tables at both key stage 2 and key stage 4. The report demonstrates that academisation does not automatically raise standards. Whilst there are examples of high performing trusts at both key stages, we see wide variation between the top performing MATs and those at the bottom, and the same is true of local authorities.

This issue of variability in performance was highlighted by Professors Merryn Hutchings and Becky Francis in their presentation of the Sutton Trusts ‘Chain Effects 2016’ which examines the performance of disadvantaged pupils in academy chains. Of the 39 chains that they examined, they identified seven that are performing significantly above average for their disadvantaged pupils but they also found eight chains where both attainment and improvement was below the average of all mainstream schools.

What was yet more striking was that examining results over time shows that there has been little change in relative ranking. A handful of chains have performed consistently and significantly above average for three years, with a similar number consistently below.

Dr Olmo Silva presented the work that he, Professor Stephen Machin, and colleagues at LSE have carried out at a system level. This work, commissioned by EPI, looked at the impact of pre-2010 sponsored academies and provided the first robust analysis of the impact of post-2010 secondary converter academies.

They found positive impacts for the early sponsored academies, with improvements that were equivalent to five grades across a pupil’s GCSE subjects. They also identified positive effects for converter academies that had previously been rated as outstanding – equivalent to about two grades across a pupil’s GCSE subjects.

But they found no effect for converter academies previously rated as good or satisfactory. Given that such schools make up around two thirds of converters, this is a worrying finding.

All of the reports highlighted the considerable variation that exists in the performance of academies. Regardless of whether the government remains committed to full academisation it is crucial that we understand what the underlying drivers of both high and low performance are – whether in an academy or in a local authority maintained school – and it is crucial that Government acts upon that evidence.

To improve our understanding of effective practice we were delighted to welcome our keynote speakers and expert panel.

Lucy Heller, Chief Executive of Ark Schools highlighted the need for capacity, vision and geographic focus within MATs but also commented on the issue of funding – drawing comparisons between the funding available to the earliest sponsored academies and more recent openers. In a theme that was to come up again, she also stressed the importance of school leadership, teacher quality and recruitment.

Dominic Herrington, Regional Schools Commissioner for the South East and South London, set out the RSC’s role in tackling underperformance but stressed that the key priority was to prevent underperformance in the first place. He explained how he had spread good practice across his region and the important role of Head Teacher Boards.

Lord Nash, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Schools, considered the wider policy context of social mobility before setting out his idea of a high performing MAT including tight clusters, clear accountability, and long term co-operation between schools. He also considered some of the benefits that he believes MATs can bring – such as career development and staff retention. This was a point brought up again by Sir Dan Moynihan, Chief Executive of the Harris Federation, who highlighted that 80 per cent of their heads are ‘home-grown’.

Whilst this conference focussed on the impact that academies are having, many of the issues that came up – including leadership and teacher recruitment – are common to all schools. Much of this isn’t an issue of academies versus local authority schools, it is about identifying the features of effective schools.

There are still significant gaps in our knowledge of the performance of academies. If government continues with a policy of full academisation it will disproportionately affect primary schools, yet the evidence here is limited as much of the existing analysis focusses on secondary schools. Evidence of the effectiveness of free schools is even more limited – on the day of our conference, the departing Prime Minister announced the next wave of 31 free schools that are to open.

Over the coming months the Education Policy Institute will continue to build its understanding of what works in the school system.

We are grateful to all those that contributed to the success of our ‘Academies: 15 years on’ summit.