Academy Status, Pupil Attainment and School Improvement


  • The Education Secretary Justine Greening says 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
  • A study published by researchers at the London School of Economics in November 2016 found that converting primary schools into academies failed to improve their results. The authors of the report looked at the results of primary schools that changed from being maintained by local authorities to being academies run by autonomous trusts, and found no improvement compared with comparable local authority schools.3
  • Similarly there is no evidence to suggest that schools joining or forming MATs will lead to better performance or outcomes for pupils. The Education Select Committee’s 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’s report also looked at the 2016 Progress 8 results for schools that have been academies for at least three years. Based on this measure it found that MATs underperformed compared to schools overall. Of MATs studied, 66% were "below average" in their performance and over half, 51.1%, 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).5
  • These findings are the latest in a line of reports which cast doubt on the claims made for MATs and school improvement. A report by the consultancy 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.6
  • 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.7
  • The Government often claims that exam results show that sponsored academies are improving at a faster rate than non-academies. However, sponsored academies are generally those schools where exam results were previously lower than average, so there is far greater scope for improvement.
  • Fuller analysis of test and examination data consistently shows that when the rate of improvement in schools with similar starting points are compared, sponsored academies do no better, and sometimes do worse. For example, analysis of the 2015 KS2 SATs results shows that sponsored primary academies’ results increased at a slower rate than similar non-academies.8
  • Similar analysis of the 2015 GCSE data shows that sponsored secondary academies improved at a slower rate than similar local authority maintained schools. For those schools in which, in 2014, the proportion of pupils achieving the benchmark (5 or more A*-Cs including English and maths) was below 35%, sponsored academy results improved on average by 5.8%. In comparable maintained schools, results improved by 7.2%. For those between 35% and 39%, sponsored academies improved by just 1.6% while LA maintained schools improved by almost three times as much, 4.6%. 9
  • 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”.10 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.11
  • The impact of MATs on low income students in secondary sponsored academies has been examined by the Sutton Trust in three consecutive annual reports. All three reports found “very significant” variation in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, both between and within chains. The most recent report concluded that a majority of chains in the study “are achieving results that are not improving and may be harming the prospects of their disadvantaged students”.12
  • 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.13
  • 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.14
  • 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”.15

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 2014–15pp. 4 & 54.

3 Richard Adams (21 November 2016), ‘Making primary schools into academies does not boost results, says report’, Guardian.

4 House of Commons Education Select Committee (February 2017), Multi-academy trusts, Seventh Report of Session 2016–17. p. 20.

5 Henry Stewart (21 January 2017) ‘DfE reveals underperformance of secondary academy trusts’, Local Schools Network.

6 Greg Hurst (9 May 2016) ‘Huge gulf in academy standards revealed’, The Times (£).

7 DfE (July 2016), Statistical working paper: Multi-academy trust performance measures: England, 2014 to 2015.p. 20.

8 Henry Stewart (14 December 2015), ‘DfE 2015 data: Maintained primary schools improve faster than sponsored academies’, Local Schools Network.

9 Henry Stewart (21 January 2016), ‘DfE GCSE data: Non academies improve significantly faster than sponsored academies’, Local Schools Network.

10Academies and free schools. p. 23

11 Jack Worth (June 2016), Analysis of Academy School Performance in 2015, NFER, pp. vii and ix.

12 Merryn Hutchings, Becky Francis and Philip Kirby (July 2016), Chain Effects. p. 6.

13 LGA press release (25 April 2016), ‘New figures reveal council maintained schools continue to outperform academies

14 National Audit Office (30 October 2014), Academies and maintained schools: Oversight and intervention.

15 Merryn Hutchings (2013), “Why is attainment higher in London than elsewhere?”

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