DfE scores academy chains and local authorities on same measures for first time

DfE scores academy chains and local authorities on same measures for first time

The Department for Education has proposed measures for rating the performance of academy chains and local authorities, which would be published on an ongoing basis.

Under the proposals, out for consultation, chains and councils would be given a score for the value they add to pupil attainment between key stages 2 and 4.

The length of time an academy has been part of a chain would also be factored in, to account for the growing influence of an academy as time passes.

The proposal speculatively includes scores for 100 councils and 20 large academy chains.

Among the best-performing academy chains on the new metrics are Ark Schools, United Learning and the Harris Federation. At the bottom of the list are University of Chester Academy Trust, the School Partnership Trust Academies, and Greenwood Dale.

Councils are also scored on the rate of improvement in their schools. Nine of the highest 10 improvers are London boroughs. Among the lowest-scoring authorities, nine are in the north of England.

Local Government Association (LGA) children and young people board chair Councillor David Simmonds welcomed the plans, but raised the prospect of using the methodology to compare councils and chains, which the report advises against.

Mr Simmonds said: “It is a step towards what the LGA and councils have been calling for, for some time.

“If we can come up with measures that allow us to compare easily between local authorities and academy trusts, then it will be very welcome.”

Phillip Bourne, director of school and academy compliance at School Data, was also enthusiastic about the measures – especially their focus on contextual factors.

“It is most reassuring that the DfE are considering value added [gains from starting points] and improvement over time as the measure of effectiveness for these groups of schools.

“Academies with low or very low prior attainment, despite their resilience and ambition, should not be compared with those that have the brightest students in the most affluent areas. “

Although the government believes value-added measures are fair, its proposal accepts their weaknesses.

The report says: “Measures of value added are estimates with a degree of uncertainty that should be recognised in any measures derived from them, particularly when looking at changes over time. The nature of value added means that two schools with the same score can have very different characteristics that may affect rates of improvement.”

To aid interpretation of the scores, other information about schools in a chain will also be published including average levels of disadvantage and prior attainment.

The report adds: “No measure can fully capture the range of individual circumstances in every school, academy chain or local authority, or the full breadth of their activity. Similarly, the measures are based on data that is currently available. As the performance tables evolve these measures will also evolve.”

Schools Week contacted the three academy chains with the highest and lowest scores, with the 10 councils with the lowest scores.

Most declined to comment while the consultation was ongoing. However, University of Chester Academies Trust urged caution: “This is the first application of experimental measures by the Department for Education to sets of annual data for groups of academies that are themselves unstable with shifting membership. This may not be so important for the largest chains or local authorities but the timing of the addition or loss of one or two academies in the short period they have existed could make a significant difference to medium and small chains. The proportion of primary and secondary academies in a chain could also influence the analysis.

“UCAT has been working closely with the department, regional schools commissioners and an outstanding local teaching school as its strategic partner for school improvement to secure rapid and sustainable improvement for all its academies and this is already bearing fruit.”