- The Education Secretary Justine Greening has said that the Government’s ambition is that all schools should become academies as part of multi academy trusts (MATs) by 2022. However, there is no credible evidence that conversion to academy status improves pupil attainment in national tests and exams, supports pupil progress or leads to school improvement. Even Schools Minister Nick Gibb has conceded that: “This government does not believe that all academies and free schools are necessarily better than maintained schools.”1
- In January 2015, following an 18-month Inquiry into academies and free schools, the House of Commons Education Committee concluded that: “Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school”. In relation to primary schools, the Committee said: “We have sought but not found convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools.”2
- In July 2017 the Education Policy Institute (EPI) in partnership with the London School of Economics (LSE) published a study of the performance of converter academies, sponsored academies and MATs. Its overall finding was that “academies do not provide an automatic solution to school improvement” and that “there is significant variation in performance at both different types of academies and Multi-Academy Trusts”.3
- In relation to primary converter academies it concluded that “there is no real change to the primary school test scores of incoming pupils once the schools become converter academies.”
- The LSE research for the report found “no evidence of a positive effect on GCSE attainments of converter academies which were rated as ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory / requires improvement’” prior to conversion. With schools that had an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating the report concluded that “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 study was unable to identify any improvement related to schools becoming sponsored academies since 2010. It concluded that “further analysis is required to try and establish whether there is a direct, causal impact of a school becoming a sponsored academy on attainment.”
- The report also compared the performance of local authorities and MATs. It concluded that “the variation within MATs and local authorities is far greater than the variation between the two groups” but also that MATs are “over-represented amongst the lowest performing school groups.”
- These findings are the latest in a line of reports which cast doubt on the claims made for MATs and school improvement. The Education Select Committee published a report on MATs in February 2017 that concluded that: “There remains a high degree of uncertainty around the effectiveness of MATs and there is not yet the evidence to prove that large scale expansion would significantly improve the school landscape.”4
- The Committee also looked at the 2016 Progress 8 results for schools that have been academies for at least three years. Based on this measure, its report found that MATs underperformed compared to schools overall. Of MATs studied, 66% were "below average" in their performance and over half, 51%, were "significantly below average". This underperformance was the case for those with high levels of disadvantaged pupils (52% significantly below average) or low levels (48% significantly below average).
- A report by the consultancy firm PwC, published on 9 May 2016, revealed that only three of the 16 largest secondary academy chains could demonstrate a positive impact on pupils’ progress.5
- In July 2016 the DfE released analysis of the performance of primary and secondary MATs in terms of value added (a measure of the progress students make between different stages of education). This found that in two thirds of MATs the value added was below average for their secondary schools, with just one third above average. The analysis also found that, for both primaries and secondaries, there was no "correlation between the current value added measure and the different length of time schools have been within each MAT”, contradicting the Government’s claim that sponsored academies improve over time.6
- Ministers often justify the academies programme by saying that it is improving results for disadvantaged pupils. However, in January 2015 the Education Committee found that: “It is too early to judge whether academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children”. In June 2016 the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) found that, “there is no compelling evidence of academy status being associated with an improvement in the performance of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM)” in either secondary or primary schools.7
- The impact of MATs on low income students in secondary sponsored academies has been examined by the Sutton Trust in four consecutive annual reports. All four reports found “very significant” variation in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, both between and within chains.8 Of the 48 chains analysed for the most recent report, only eight saw poorer pupils with high prior attainment go on to progress more than the national average. Longitudinal analysis over four years shows that the proportion of chains in which disadvantaged pupils performed above the mainstream average had fallen between 2013 and 2016.9
- The Government frequently refers to academies’ Ofsted results as evidence of the success of the programme. However, figures released by the Local Government Association in April 2016 showed that 86% of council maintained schools were rated "good" or "outstanding" by Ofsted, compared to 82% of academies.10
- The Government should focus on cost-effective and proven school improvement initiatives, such as local partnerships and federations or larger scale interventions such as the City Challenge programme. These interventions are supported by evidence. For example, a 2014 National Audit Office (NAO) report, Academies and maintained schools: Oversight and intervention, found informal interventions such as local support were more effective than academy conversion.11
- In 2013, Professor Merryn Hutchings, lead author of the DfE’s evaluation of the City Challenge programme, stated: “The evidence that the London Challenge was a successful approach to school improvement is overwhelming. It was also comparatively cheap; over three years the funding for City Challenge was £160 million, considerably cheaper than the £8.5 billion reportedly spent on the academies’ programme over two years”.12
1 Sophie Scott (5 September 2015), ‘Nick Gibb tells ResearchED academies are not “necessarily better” than maintained schools’, Schools Week.
2 Education Committee (January 2015), Academies and free schools. Fourth Report of Session 2014–15. pp. 4 & 54.
3 Jon Andrews and Natalie Perera (July 2017), The impact of academies on educational outcomes, Education Policy Institute. p. 6.
4 House of Commons Education Select Committee (February 2017), Multi-academy trusts, Seventh Report of Session 2016–17. p. 20.
5 Greg Hurst (9 May 2016) ‘Huge gulf in academy standards revealed’, The Times (£).
6 DfE (July 2016), Statistical working paper: Multi-academy trust performance measures: England, 2014 to 2015.p. 20.
7Academies and free schools. p. 23
8 See: https://www.suttontrust.com/research-category/academies/?post_type=research-paper
9 Merryn Hutchings and Becky Francis (June 2017), Chain Effects 2017: The impact of academy chains on low-income students, Sutton Trust. p 5.
10 LGA press release (25 April 2016), ‘New figures reveal council maintained schools continue to outperform academies’.
11 National Audit Office (30 October 2014), Academies and maintained schools: Oversight and intervention.
12 Merryn Hutchings (2013), ‘Why is attainment higher in London than elsewhere?’