The Education Policy Institute (EPI) has published a new paper examining the impact of academies on educational outcomes. The comprehensive report brings together EPI’s own analysis, along with research undertaken by the London School of Economics.
You can download the report in full here.
The expansion of the academies programme has been one of the biggest changes to the English education system in a generation. 3.4 million children are now taught in either a sponsored or a converter academy. Those children will have been educated in schools with different governance arrangements, potentially a different curriculum and different approaches to teaching practices, structures and qualifications.
This report brings together research conducted in 2016 by both the London School of Economics and the Education Policy Institute on both the performance of different types of academies as well as that of Multi-Academy Trusts and local authorities.
Our principal finding through this extensive study is that academies do not provide an automatic solution to school improvement. As we demonstrate throughout this report, there is significant variation in performance at both different types of academies and Multi-Academy Trusts.
As we discuss in Chapter 2, the LSE research shows that the early sponsored academies, which opened under the Labour government between 2002 and 2010, had, on average, a positive effect on pupils’ end of secondary school attainment. For these academies, we find that:
- There is an overall positive effect, equivalent to a pupil achieving one grade higher in each of five GCSE subjects; and, the longer a pupil has been in the academy, the greater the improvement in his or her GCSE scores.
- There is, however, significant variation in the performance of the pre-2010 sponsored academies. We find that the difference in improvement between the best and worst of these academies ranges from improvements of around one GCSE grade in seven subjects to reductions of around one GCSE grade in four subjects.
- Once a pre-2010 sponsored academy has been open for four years, pupils who attended that academy were around 30 per cent more likely to attend a non-Russell Group university. We find no effect, however, on enrolment to Russell Group universities.
In the case of sponsored academies that opened both before and after 2010, our analysis also finds that schools attracted higher performing pupils (as measured by end of primary school test scores) once they became an academy. This suggests that these academies become more attractive to parents of relatively higher attaining pupils than had previously been the case.
For the academies that opened after 2010, the evidence on the impact on GCSE attainments is less conclusive.
Chapter 3 reports the LSE findings on the impact of sponsor academies that were established between 2010 and 2014 under the Coalition government. It shows an initial improvement in results in the year prior to the school becoming an academy (equivalent to around one GCSE grade in one subject). This increases further in the year during which the school becomes a sponsored academy, but then that improvement tails off over the following four years. The analysis does not enable us to identify the cause of this initial improvement, or the subsequent tapering off, but possible reasons could include intensive and focused action taken by schools in order to avoid becoming an academy or informal intervention from academy sponsors in the knowledge that the schools would soon be converting.
In 2010, the Coalition government passed a new law – the Academies Act – which allowed higher performing schools to convert to academy status, giving them greater autonomy and freedom from local authority control.
As summarised in Chapter 4, the LSE research finds that:
- The effect of these newer converter academies on GCSE attainments is far smaller than the effects of the pre-2010 sponsored academies and is, in some cases, undetectable.
- The academies that were rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in the latest inspection prior to June 2010 – when the Academies Act was passed – improved pupils’ attainment by almost one grade in each of two subjects.
- There is variation in the performance of outstanding converter academies – from improvements of one grade higher in each of four GCSEs to reductions of one grade lower in one GCSE.
- The LSE research finds no evidence of a positive effect on GCSE attainments of converter academies which were rated as ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory / requires improvement’.
We then consider whether Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) are having a discernible impact on outcomes for young people. In Chapter 5, we review the analysis produced by Jon Andrews, for the Education Policy Institute, which compares the performance of MATs with local authorities at both primary and secondary phases.
We find considerable variation in the performance of both MATs and local authorities. Indeed, the variation within MATs and local authorities is far greater than the variation between the two groups. While many of the highest performing school groups at primary and secondary level are MATS, MATs are also over-represented amongst the lowest performing school groups.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The main conclusion that we draw from this research is that academies have not provided a panacea to school improvement. In the early days of the programme, potentially due to additional resources and improved leadership and governance, sponsored academies recorded a discernible positive impact on pupils’ attainment. This has not, however, been sustained in new academies as the programme has expanded since 2010. With the exception of outstanding convertor academies, we do not observe any visible, positive impact on outcomes amongst any other type of academy (both sponsored and convertors).
The significant variation in performance between different types of academies and within Multi-Academy Trusts should be explored further. It is evident that the structure of the school is less meaningful to the outcomes of pupils than what is happening within those schools. Features of effective practice and process should be identified through rigorous analyses in order to draw the right conclusions from this programme. Such research should also consider whether and to what extent academies are using their greater freedoms in order to drive improvements.
This first part of this report looks solely at the performance of secondary academies. As the number of primary academies increases, a logical next step would be to consider whether we see any evidence of improvement by the end of Key Stage 2.