Joining an academy trust has only a “small” positive impact on the fortunes of so-called “stuck” secondary schools, and none at all for languishing primary schools, new research suggests.
The findings raise doubts about the government’s plans to improve schools by moving them all into multi-academy trusts. Researchers warned academisation was “not a silver bullet”.
A new report from the Education Policy Institute and UCL Institute of Education found that schools persistently rated less than ‘good’ by Ofsted faced a “cycle of challenging circumstances” and limited improvement.
The plight of stuck schools was previously highlighted by Ofsted in 2018, when chief inspector Amanda Spielman warned there were hundreds of schools that had not been rated above ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ for over a decade.
EPI and the IoE analysed the characteristics of schools rated less than ‘good’ over a minimum of three inspections between 2005 and 2018, comparing them to other schools and looking at the impact of changes to governance and leadership.
Report points to limited impact of academisation
Converting or moving schools with a double ‘requires-improvement’ grade is a key plank of the schools reforms set out in the government’s white paper in March. Schools with ‘inadequate’ ratings already face intervention.
But today’s report found joining a multi-academy trust showed only “small positive effects for secondary schools” when it came to their ability to secure a better grade at their next inspection.
However researchers said this may be caused by “inspection holidays” given to schools when they become sponsor-led academies, which would reduce the number of opportunities to be rated less than ‘good’.
Unlike for secondary schools, there were “no positive feedback effects of joining a MAT
for primary schools”, and even risks of greater pupil movement and teacher turnover.
The report warned the findings “show, yet again, that academisation is not a silver bullet to deliver school improvement and the government should consider these results to help inform its future policies around academisation and school improvement”.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the findings “demolish the government’s claim that joining a MAT will improve schools’ outcomes”.
“Ministers must recognise that a change of a school’s governance is not the magic solution they claim it to be.”
However, the study found that at secondary level, joining a MAT “slightly” reduced teacher turnover.
Schools face uphill struggle after negative grade
The report also lays bare the struggles faced by “stuck” schools, which face greater instability, higher rates of poverty and more challenging locations.
Researchers found that after their initial negative Ofsted grade, the intake of a school “tends to become more disadvantaged and teacher turnover increases, both of which contribute to the difficulty in reversing the negative Ofsted judgement”.
“The longer the school continues to have the less than good rating, the harder the process of school improvement becomes.”
The report concluded that the DfE must consider whether there is “adequate support” for stuck schools, especially stuck secondary schools which receieve only “marginally higher” funding than other institutions.
Efforts to reduce “excessively high teacher turnover” are also needed, the report said.
Inspections ‘too frequent and inconsistent’
The report also found that inspections of case study schools were “were arguably too frequent, variable and inconsistent”. However, “many headteachers, teachers and governors” of all types of school valued the “role of Ofsted and other support received to improve”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, said the report “confirms that what is desperately needed to improve the fortunes of schools which are trapped in a cycle of negative Ofsted ratings is more support and less punishment”.
“Unfortunately, we have a system in which negative Ofsted ratings stigmatise schools, ruin careers and damage professional reputations.”
Ofsted should revise the cycles of full and monitoring inspections to give schools time to implement “improvements”, the report said.
The watchdog should avoid trainsforming monitoring into too frequent inspections and “over-surveillance”, address variation in the number of inspections and across inspectors, and should not provide “false hope” in monitoring visits.
The Department for Education was contacted for comment.
An Ofsted spokesperson said it had “highlighted that we need more joined-up support to improve education for children in these stuck schools, so they get the same opportunities as every other child”.
“We maintain that if schools focus on doing all the right things, such as improving behaviour and ensuring high standards of teaching, that they can become unstuck, and we will continue to work with the Department of Education to ensure we work as closely as possible to help support these schools.”