Academy Status, Pupil Attainment and School Improvement


  • The Government has set out plans to move towards an education system in which all schools are academies.1 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.” 2
  • 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.” 3
  • 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.4
  • Similar analysis of the 2015 GCSE data shows that sponsored secondary academies are improving at a slower rate than similar local authority maintained schools. For those schools in which the proportion of pupils achieving the benchmark (5 or more A*-Cs including English and maths) in 2014 was below 35 per cent, sponsored academy results improved on average by 5.8 per cent. In comparable maintained schools results improved by 7.2 per cent. For those between 35 per cent and 39 per cent, sponsored academies improved by just 1.6 per cent while LA maintained schools improved by almost three times as much, 4.6 per cent.5
  • The Government’s claims about the successes of Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) are contradicted by various studies. 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, while just one of the 26 largest primary sponsors produced results above the national average. In one academy chain, two fifths of primary children failed to reach the expected levels of literacy and maths.6
  • In July 2016 the Education Policy Institute think tank produced a league table of academy trusts and councils in England based on the extent to which pupil performance has improved, rather than exam results. This showed that there is little overall difference between academy trusts and local authorities but also concluded that at KS4 “more multi-academy trusts are significantly below average than above”.7
  • On the same day 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. In 54 per cent of MATs the secondary value added performance was "significantly below average". The DfE’s 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.8
  • 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”.9 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.10
  • 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”.11
  • 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 per cent of council maintained schools are now rated "good" or "outstanding" by Ofsted, compared to 82 per cent of academies.12
  • Analysis of data released by the DfE in July 2015 showed that a school rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted was almost four times more likely to remain ‘inadequate’ at its next inspection if it became a sponsored academy than if it had remained a maintained school. For primary schools rated ‘inadequate’, sponsored academies were over 12 times as likely to remain “inadequate”.13 Similarly, Ofsted data released in December 2015 showed that among “inadequate” schools which had become sponsored academies, 12 per cent remained inadequate (one in eight) compared to just two per cent (one in 50) of those that remained in the local authority maintained sector.14
  • 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.15
  • 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”.16

1 The DfE’s Education White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere (March 2016), stated that all schools would be required to join or form multi-academy trusts by 2022. However, the Government has since set out a more limited plan for a new Education Bill which would force schools in the “worst performing local authorities and those that can no longer viably support their remaining schools” to convert to academy status. See: Sam Claydon (18 May 2016)  ‘Queen's Speech 2016: Education Bill could lead to “backdoor academisation”’, LocalGov.

2 Sophie Scott (5 September 2015), “Nick Gibb tells ResearchED academies are not ‘necessarily better’ than maintained schools”, Schools Week.

3 Education Committee (January 2015), Academies and free schools. Fourth Report of Session 2014–15. pp. 4 & 54.

4 Henry Stewart (14 December 2015), “DfE 2015 data: Maintained primary schools improve faster than sponsored academies”, Local Schools Network.

5 Henry Stewart (21 January 2016), “DfE GCSE data: Non academies improve significantly faster than sponsored academies”, Local Schools Network.

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

7 Jon Andrews (2016) School performance in multi-academy trusts and local authorities – 2015, Education Policy Institute, p. 32

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

9Academies and free schools. p. 23

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

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

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

13 Henry Stewart (31 July 2015),”DfE Data: Sponsored academies lead to slower school improvement”, Local Schools Network.

14 NUT (30 December 2015), Ofsted reveals that a school is six times as likely to remain inadequate if it becomes a sponsored academy.

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

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

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