‘THE FOUNDATIONAL myth of the academies programme – that it would boost educational attainment among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds – must now be laid to rest as just that: a myth.’
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, was commenting yesterday on the Sutton Trust report Chain Effects 2018, which is published today.
‘This report conclusively shows that the expansion of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) under the academy programme has not delivered on what it was supposed to,’ she continued.
‘In fact it’s done the opposite, with two-thirds of academy chains performing below the national average for disadvantaged pupils. ‘The haphazard efforts by successive governments to build some sort of structure to support academies has resulted in the entirely ineffectual but bloated bureaucracy of the Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs).
‘This report concludes that there is little evidence they are having any success in bringing about improvement and yet their budgets increase year on year, with over £30 million spent on their staffing last year.
‘The government should reflect on what impact their dysfunctional system is having on children, parents and schools staff across the country. ‘Now is the time to admit failure and move on.
‘It is time to stop focusing on trying to find new sponsors for schools when clearly the system of MATs is not working. ‘A first step would be to allow schools who have been failed by academy trusts to go back to their local authorities when they choose. ‘But what is needed in the long run is a wholesale return of schools to a system of democratic oversight and support.’
Two-thirds of academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils, according to new analysis by the Sutton Trust. The research, 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 our Chain Effects series.
Poorer pupils in 12 out of 58 chains analysed performed above the national average on key measures of 2017 attainment for disadvantaged pupils, including three chains – City of London, Diocese of London, and Harris – which were significantly above the average.
However, in 38 of the 58 chains analysed, disadvantaged pupils performed below the national average for all state schools. Sponsor-led academies have been promoted by successive governments as a way to improve the educational achievement of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
As the academies programme has developed, 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 overall how they perform 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, and there is little to suggest that the Regional Schools Commissioners are having any success in bringing about improvement. There is little to suggest that the Regional Schools Commissioners 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, for example the Grace Foundation, 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 who are unlikely to succeed for this optional qualification 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.
To make sure that the academies programme realises its goal of improving outcomes for all disadvantaged children, the report is urging Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) to act more decisively with chains that do not deliver improvement over time. In addition, 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 do more to create mechanisms that spread good practice from the best academy chains to the rest.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said: ‘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.’
Professor Becky Francis, Director of the UCL-Institute of Education, said: ‘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.’
Opening its report, the Sutton Trust states: ‘Nearly two decades since the opening of the first city academy, and five years since we started our series of Chain Effects reports, have academies achieved their intended mission of transforming the attainment of pupils from socially disadvantaged backgrounds? ‘The data overall would clearly say not.’
It continues: ‘Turning to our specific findings. What we notice from our data over time is several-fold: • Some chains are realising the transformative vision envisaged at the start of the academies programme. Although growing slightly in number over time, these remain a very small minority overall.
• Meanwhile, academy chains overall underperform the mainstream average for their disadvantaged pupils (and indeed for their non-disadvantaged pupils). While some chains have improved, and others may still do so, a significant number have sat at the bottom of our league table across a range of measures, over the five years of our analysis.’
The report exposes what happens ‘when they are unlikely to achieve standard level passes, as well as more dubious strategies such as off-rolling. ‘This last point reflects the wider context within which the academy chains are operating.
‘Accountability measures and Ofsted inspections are a much greater threat for the schools which are least likely to meet the targets set, and so it is obviously tempting to focus on targets even when this may lead to action which is not beneficial for individuals. ‘Off-rolling is clearly not beneficial for individual pupils.’
The Sutton Trust report also states: ‘We believe that the current emphasis on EBacc entry is unnecessary: ‘Attainment 8 and Progress 8 offer sufficient incentive to encourage schools to offer all their pupils a broad and balanced curriculum that has academic depth, but also allows individuals to follow their preferences and aptitudes (including the possible inclusion of a limited number of vocational qualifications).
‘There is no need for a narrower stipulation beyond this.’
The Sutton Trust report concludes: ‘It is also urgent to recruit more teachers in the secondary subjects suffering shortages, and to find ways of making teaching in schools in deprived areas more attractive.
‘The accountability system is currently perceived to be skewed in favour of schools with more affluent intakes where it is much easier to achieve the required levels of performance. ‘Those working in schools in areas of deprivation, which face much greater challenges, tend to feel threatened.
‘This does not make working in such schools an attractive proposition. There needs to be a greater level of recognition of the challenges involved.’ The NEU states in its response to the Sutton Trust Report that the academisation of education has created a ‘dysfunctional system’ harmful to ‘children, parents and schools staff across the country’ and that ‘what is needed is a wholesale return of schools to a system of democratic oversight and support.’
This can’t be allowed to continue. The education unions and the TUC must call a general strike to smash academisation and bring down the Tories now.