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Academy results boost ‘tapers away to zero’, study finds



Improvements in schools’ results after they become sponsored academies cannot be attributed to the actions of their sponsors, a key piece of research has claimed.

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) is demanding the government look again at research before continuing its planned expansion of the academies programme after analysis by the think tank and the London School of Economics yielded inconclusive results.

Using eight-year performance data, the two organisations compared outcomes between 205 sponsored academies approved after May 2010 and 49 schools which were not academies at the time.

It is one of the first major pieces of research to look specifically at sponsored academies opened during the coalition government, rather than sponsored academies opened under the Labour government.

The analysis found that results at academies increased more in the years immediately before and after conversion, but this boost appeared to “taper away to zero” within about three years.

The report said it could not be sure why there was a pre-conversion bump in results, but said it could be explained by an “intensive focus on key stage 4 pupils” in the year or years before conversion, either due to pressure from Ofsted and or a bid by schools to avoid being taken over by an academy sponsor.

“In conclusion, while we find an initial (and significant) improvement in the year prior to and after becoming a sponsored academy, we cannot attribute that trend to anything that may have been implemented by the academy sponsor.

Natalie Perera
Natalie Perera

“It may however be a result of the incentives generated by the academisation policy, which the government may well argue is a success in itself. Or, it could be that these schools were improving in any case (perhaps as a result of competition pressures or other interventions).

“Neither can we say, yet, that the improvements are sustained over a period of longer than three years. Further analysis is required to try and establish whether there is a direct impact of a school becoming a sponsored academy on attainment.”

Natalie Perera, director of research at the EPI, said: “I think what the government now needs to do is look at all this new research as a whole and fully consider what that tells us about what might be working and why these Labour academies were as successful as they were and why we don’t see the same improvement for some of the academies under the coalition government.

“They need to do this before they embark on expanding the programme and multi-academy trusts.”

The report, which also assessed the performance of councils and academy trusts based on their schools’ data, also warned that becoming a sponsored academy could risk damaging school outcomes.

It found that the lowest-performing school group, on both measures and at both primary and secondary, was a multi-academy trust, and that schools moving from the highest-performing local authorities to the lowest-performing trusts could risk a “significant decline in standards”.

“The difference between the highest performing LA and the lowest performing large MAT is equivalent to just over 7 GCSE grades,” it said. “Full academisation, especially when forced, could therefore risk damaging school outcomes.”

The analysis found that at primary level, the Harris Federation was the highest-performing school group in England, while Redcar and Cleveland was the best-performing council. The Education Fellowship Trust and Poole were the worst-performing trust and council respectively.

At secondary level, the Inspiration Trust is the best schools group in England, Outwood Grange was the best group with 10 schools or more and Barnet in London was the best council.

Among those doing less well, the College Academies Trust was the lowest-performing schools group, the Greenwood Academies Trust was the lowest-performing large school group and Nottingham and Knowsley were the worst-performing councils.

A government spokesperson argued that converter academies “continued to perform above the average for state-funded schools”, and claimed that sponsored academies were “typically schools that were previously poorly performing, but have been improving on average”.



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21 Comments

  1. Wizzobravo

    Hmm, evidence that shows that being an academy does not make difference. DfE reaction? The words “brush” and “carpet” spring to mind.

    If only there could be a mature, inclusive study of what school structures work.

  2. ‘Labour academies were as successful as they were and why we don’t see the same improvement for some of the academies under the coalition government.’

    When was this quote taken? I know teachers aren’t the most politically minded people but I believe I am right in saying there is no coalition government anymore…

    In which case, great to see such ‘on the pulse’ journalism.

    • Laura McInerney

      The research, which is brand new, is about academies under the coalition government. So the quote refers to them.
      You may argue the research isn’t “on the pulse” but it takes several months to get results data. So turning this around in just under a year and a half is actually pretty decent of EPI.

    • Labour academies weren’t uniformly successful. Deception about academies has been going on since they were first introduced. That said, LSE research in late 2010 painted a fairly positive picture of Labour academies (while acknowledging the quality of intake in these academies had improved). The report’s authors said their findings couldn’t be used to justify Coalition academy policy but Gove went ahead and used the LSE findings anyway. One of the report’s authors complained about this in the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/apr/09/labour-academies-research-coalition-programme

  3. Clearly we need a new education policy to address this problem. How about the reintroduction of grammar schools? Oh, I think the DfE has beaten me to the punch.

    The evidence is overwhelming that it’s the quality of teaching that makes the biggest difference. Oh for a government that would recognise this and invest serious money and effort into making sure all children have great teachers. “Standards not structures” would be a great mantra – but it’s been used before, hasn’t it?

  4. This important research confirms that academisation is not a magic bullet. The National Audit Office found that informal methods such as local support were more effective than academy conversion. Yet the Government persists in saying academy conversion, especially with a sponsor or within a multi-academy trust, is essential for school improvement. It isn’t.
    Why, then, is the Government so keen on promoting an expensive policy which doesn’t do what is claimed? The end-game is to allow English schools to be run for profit. This was proposed by Policy Exchange before the 2010 election and endorsed by Michael Gove when he told PX that he would allow groups like Serco to run schools. PX said this could be achieved by making state schools ‘independent’ and they could outsource their provision to for-profit companies. Academies are theoretically ‘independent’ schools.
    The Gove statement is still available on YouTube. For link see here: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/10/gove-is-in-favour-of-profit-making-companies-running-state-schools/%23sthash.hzb5uyax.dpuf

    • Mark Watson

      Ooooooh, those evil Tories are coming to steal your money …
      Why not chuck the Freemasons and the Illuminati into the equation? How about the New World Order or even David Icke’s Babylonian Brotherhood?
      It must have been a disappointing dent to your conspiracy theory when Gove, Cameron and Osbourne left Government and no longer have any say in the decisions being made.
      Or maybe Theresa May, Justine Greening and Philip Hammond had to swear a secret oath of fealty to promulgate Gove’s vision before they were allowed to take office …
      It’s all true, I read it in the papers.

  5. Mark Watson

    How about the fact, which no-one has pointed out, that from this article it seems the report only looked at sponsored academies?
    As at August 2016, and looking at schools which became academies after May 2010 there are 1,434 sponsored academies and 3,809 convertor academies.
    So the report only looks at 27% of the schools which became academies – if you’re seeking to use this report to reinforce your prior viewpoint of the academies programme don’t you think it might be helpful to consider all of the schools?

    • That makes the outlook even worse since sponsored academies were those with the greatest scope for improvements, converters being largely good or outstanding already. Why do you find it so hard to accept the evidence. Academisation has no impact on school standards and is not an effective whole system policy for school improvement.

      • Mark Watson

        Luckily for the future of this country you and your ideological zealot brethren aren’t making decisions about the future of our schools.
        Unluckily there are equally misguided ideological zealots on the other side of the fence who believe academisation is the silver bullet that will cure all ills.
        Like so many things in life, if we were only able to steer a sensible, reasoned path between the two sides we’d have a great system. Where schools are thriving with a high-performing local authority they should be free to stay as they are. Conversely, where the local authority is failing a school it should have the choice to move away from that authority to give the school a chance to improve.
        I, and so many others, am instinctively suspicious of anyone that tries to impose their personal agenda by standing up and telling me I can’t do something because ‘you know better’.

        • As usual, Mark, you ignore any calls to produce evidence in favour of your preferred solution and instead indulge in name-calling. Is it really too much to ask to expect education policy to be founded on evidence.

          Seems to me that it’s those who would choose to do so who are the ideological zealots.

          If something works – great, but prove it. If it doesn’t then abandon it. Converting schools to academy status doesn’t work. It’s not the thing likely to improve standards. A different solution is therefore indicated.

          Decisions to convert schools are often taken by a very small number of individuals (often with a vested interest such as the potential to become a high earning Executive Headteacher) and quite often against the wishes of parents and the wider community. So much for localism, eh?

  6. Mark Watson

    So much nonsense. You say that the decision to convert is often made by those people with vested interests who will profit themselves. In order to convert to an academy a school needs its Governing Body to pass a resolution. Your statement insults those governing bodies up and down the land who made the decision to convert to an academy for no other reason than they thought it was best for their school. Who didn’t give two figs for anyone’s ideological beliefs about whether academies were a good or a bad thing, but were only interested in whether it would be a good thing for their school and their pupils.
    But of course that doesn’t fit with your narrow view that the only reason people do things is to fiddle money from the public purse.
    I don’t know how many times I have to say this, but it clearly isn’t sinking in so I have to say it again – I do not believe all schools should have to become academies. What I do believe is that all schools should have a choice. As I see it, you do not want them to have such a choice.

    • Some schools have had their governing bodies replaced with IEBs and the consultation on academy conversion run by a potential sponsor. Yes some governing bodies have voted to do it. In the early days there was money on offer to make that decision more attractive. The DfE has moved heaven and earth to lean on governing bodies of some schools to jump before they are pushed so it’s too simplistic to suggest all governors have supported it.

      Why give schools a choice to do something which it has been proved is unlikely to enable them to improve when the costs attached to it are so high and being met from the public purse? It’s a total waste of resources which would be better deployed in a different way.

  7. Mark Watson

    Some schools have indeed had their governing bodies replaced by IEBs. DO you know how many? Do you know what percentage of schools that have converted to academies had the decision made in such circumstances? I’m betting you don’t, and I also bet it’s a very low percentage. But why let facts get in the way of prejudice eh?
    I think you last paragraph says everything about you and your approach to this – “why give schools a choice”. Why indeed. Why not just dictate to them what they can and can’t do based on whatever colour government is in power from time to time. That is the fundamental difference between our approach – I think schools should be empowered to make the decisions that they feel are best for them and their pupils.
    If you strongly believe that academisation is not the right way forward then you should of course explain why you think that. Set out the evidence and the reasons you think back up your position. However, if after having considered your arguments and those put forward by others, a school makes its own mind up you should respect their decision.

    • Sadly the information you’ve asked me for isn’t available because none of this activity was transparent. A lot of the pressure occured in private non minuted meetings which many opponents of academisation failed to have released even through FOI requests.

      I strongly believe that academisation is not the right way forward because it’s an expensive way of achieving nothing different than what we already have. If two options have equivalent outcomes then logic suggests you go with the lower cost option – that’s called value for money and should always be a consideration in public policy making. The evidence to show that academies do not perform any better than maintained schools is everywhere and has been produced by Janet Downs and others from the Local Schools Network on many occasions. In contrast there is no evidence I’ve seen to suggest academies on the whole perform better. That being the case the academy programme should be paused. I’m not suggesting reverting existing academies back although I see no reason wny failing academies should not be returned to high performing local authorities – any reason why that shouldn’t be allowed to happen? (other than dogma). If something is not having the desired effect then there is no logic in extending it.

      This is not about dictating to schools – it’s about spending public money in a way that achieves the right outcomes for children – because this is all about what’s best for children’s education and not at all about what schools might want. School’s are individual establishments within an overall education system – and they are sometimes driven by policy towards particular behaviour that isn’t necessarily in children’s best interests. Many heads will admit to pushing conversion for the short term cash that was made available rather than any philosophical belief that academisation would drive up standards or any wish to get away from their local authority.

      • Mark Watson

        OK, I disagree with you but I recognise your arguments. So put that argument across, talk to schools about why staying with their local authority is the best idea. But what happens if the school disagrees with you?
        What do you say to the community whose local school has been rated as Requires Improvement or Inadequate for a decade, or has been in special measures for years? Who have given up hope of their local authority turning things round because year after year they see the same thing happening. Why should they believe that anything different is going to happen in the next ten years?
        In some situations they see academisation as a possible way out of their predicament. Yet you say they should be forced to stay with that local authority who has failed them and generations of children.
        I suggest that what you fail to realise is that parents don’t think of schools as “individual establishments within an overall education system” (as you put it). I’m a parent and although I want the best overall education system for the whole country, my number one concern by a country mile is to make sure that the school my child will go to is the best that it can be. I don’t care what it calls itself – academy or community – all I care about is how good it is. And I trust the headteacher and governing body of that school to make the right decision far more than I trust a remote local authority, the government or (with respect) you.

        • There are only a very small number of schools that have remained inadequate for many years. As for RI schools well the goalposts were well and truly moved when the previous category of Satisfactory (meaning something which satisfies requirements!) was turned into something quite different.

          Nobody opposing academisation is an apologist for the failure of some schools within the LA system. But the majority of local authorities support schools well. In the area where I live more than 90% of primary school children attend a good or outstanding school for example.

          I have every sympathy with parents unhappy about the quality of what is on offer at their local school (although league tables are more often a measure of the school’s intake than the quality of its teaching). But what should be happening is that resources should be concentrated on doing things which work and if there is no evidence that a change of status of itself will make any difference then why offer (or force) that option?

          75% of headteachers in schools that were converting said that the main reason was financial – there were big inducements on offer to help schools make the ‘right’ decision. And who can blame them – money buys resources. It’s not a school level problem, it’s a system level problem. I don’t blame individual schools deciding to convert, nor parents for supporting that move (although parents are often quite suspicious and unhappy about conversion) – I blame the government for pursuing a policy which is not evidence based and therefore risks wasting scarce resources on things which will not help children.

          Of course individual parents are focussed on their own children – but governments have a responsibility to establish services which address the needs of all children including those without parents who champion their own children’s education. They have a responsibility to spend public money on things that work not things they would like to work because they happen to fit with their prejudices and own experience. Until there is some compelling evidence that academy conversion has some intrinsic benefit for children I would propose no further schools be permitted or required to convert. If the evidence doesn’t stack up then a different path is indicated.

  8. Mark Watson

    Sorry, I disagree with you. And I do so on the basis of evidence and research. The Education Policy Institute report “School performance in multi-academy trusts (MATs) and local authorities (LAs)” showed there was a clear spread of MATs and LAs among the highest and lowest performers. Looking at the lowest performers – in secondary schools eleven out of the bottom twenty performers were LAs and for primary schools fourteen out of the bottom twenty performers were LAs. So no, I don’t think that “the majority of local authorities support schools well” and neither does the evidence.
    As I see it, the important point is that if those MATs in the list of poorest performers don’t turn things around their schools will be taken off them and moved to another MAT who will do a better job. However those schools which are run by LAs are stuck with that LA (unless of course they convert to academies).
    As for your comment about 75% of headteachers making a decision based on finance, again it’s important to note that it’s not the headteacher’s decision. It’s the Board of Governors. If your arguments against academisation are so strong, why aren’t you able to convince the 100s of schools that are in the process of converting?

    • In the area where I live very few primary schools have converted – less than 10% which shows that 90% of them are in no great rush to get away from LAs. Many of them are small schools which may not be attractive to MATs. Secondary schools thought they were getting more money and autonomy by being standalone convertors. In the context of the governments drive to have all schools in MATs this is a far less attractive proposition and conversions have slowed. Primary schools are not that keen to become part of secondary led MATs. This being the case we are now stuck with a half baked two tier fragmented mess.

      • Mark Watson

        But small primary schools are also not “attractive” to local authorities. I’m not aware that any primary schools have been closed by MATs, but I know of a number of schools (mostly rural primaries) that have been closed by local authorities. Would be an interesting statistic to see the numbers on this.
        I’d also be interested to see the statistics that show conversions have slowed – can you point me in the direction (I find the gov.uk website most un-user-friendly)