Most academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils, research shows

Two-thirds of academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils, according to a new report

According to new analysis by the Sutton Trust, two-thirds of academy chains are performing below average for disadvantaged pupils.

The research, released today and authored by Professor Merryn Hutchings and Professor Becky Francis, analysed the performance of disadvantaged students – those entitled to the pupil premium – in 2017, and over the five years of Sutton Trust’s Chain Effects series.

Poorer pupils in 12 out of the 58 chains analysed performed above the national average on key measures of 2017 attainment for disadvantaged pupils. However, in 38 of the 58 chains analysed, disadvantaged pupils performed below the national average for all state schools.

With the sponsor-led academies process developing, policymakers have increasingly seen multi-academy trusts (MATs) as the best way of working to improve the performance of previously-struggling schools and the educational outcomes of their often disadvantaged pupils.

However, the Sutton Trust’s five-year analysis highlights how much inconsistency there is between chains and how they perform, overall, below the national average for all state schools.

It finds there is the same small group of chains that consistently outperform the national average for disadvantaged pupils, while another small group of chains remain at the bottom of the table each year.

There is little to suggest that the regional schools commissioners (RSCs) are having any success in bringing about improvement. A small number of chains have shown consistent year-on-year improvement in the ranking, demonstrating that improvement is possible, while others have fallen or fluctuated.

The report highlights some chains entering high numbers of pupils to the EBacc qualification, many of whom fail to achieve the required number of pass marks. Unnecessarily entering students for this optional qualification who are unlikely to succeed can be harmful.

The report also demonstrates that it is long-standing academy chains who show better exam results, with newer chains frequently performing poorly, indicating that it takes time for a new trust to establish effective practices in the schools it takes over.

The Sutton Trust report is urging RSCs to act more decisively with chains that do not deliver improvement. In addition, it states that the government must recognise the challenge of limited capacity in the system and allow RSCs to draw on all successful providers with good track records, including local authorities.

The report is also recommending that the government, and the National and Regional Schools Commissioners to do more to create mechanisms that spread good practice from the best academy chains to the rest.

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Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said today:

“Two-thirds of academy chains perform below the national average for all state schools on key measures of attainment for disadvantaged young people.  Improving their educational achievement was the original reason why academies were set up.  In this regard they have not succeeded.

“We at the Sutton Trust are recommending the sharing of good practice of the best academy chains with the rest. More generally schools should make increased use of the body of what works evidence. Also, there should be strenuous efforts in struggling schools to attract and retain good teachers and those teachers in subjects where there are shortages.”

Professor Becky Francis, director of the UCL-Institute of Education, commented:

“Our five year analysis of sponsor academies’ provision for disadvantaged pupils shows that while a few chains are demonstrating transformational results for these pupils, more are struggling. We continue to find it perplexing that the government has done so little to explore the methods of these successful chains and to distil learning to support others.

We continue to call for this, and to call for the government to capitalise on the successes of a range of schooling organisations, whether MATs or local authorities, in order to do the best we can for all pupils.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added:

“It is important to understand that many multi-academy trusts take on schools which have been judged by Ofsted as inadequate and which are therefore likely to have results that are below-average. Different trusts will have different mixes of schools at different starting points.

“Securing sustainable improvement takes time and this is particularly challenging given that schools are inadequately funded by the government and face severe teacher shortages.

“The Sutton Trust’s report gives us a valuable insight into a system which is evolving and useful practical recommendations about how to maintain the impetus for improvement. We would urge people against using these findings for political point-scoring and anti-academy rhetoric.

“We need to focus our energies on supporting schools to improve rather than indulging in endless ideological battles over school structures.”

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