EPI report: Academies are no better than LA schools, and 7 other important findings

There is no difference in the performance of multi-academy trusts and groups of local authority schools, a new report from the Education Policy Institute has found.

The report, which compared school performance and pupil improvement at every trust and local authority in England at both key stage two and four, makes a number of recommendations to improve the academy system, including allowing local authorities to take schools back from failing trusts.

Here are eight things we learned.

1. Academies do not perform better than maintained schools

According to the analysis, there is very little difference in the performance of academy trusts and local authorities. However, the overall performance of the group a school is in – whether a MAT or a particular local authority – makes the biggest difference to the attainment of its pupils.

Primary pupils overseen by the best-performing trusts and LAs are the equivalent of a full term ahead of their peers in the lowest-performing chains or councils. At key stage four, the difference is equivalent to half a grade in each GCSE subject.

2. LAs should be allowed to take schools back from failing trusts

The EPI recommends that councils should have the power to take a school back under local authority control if the multi-academy trust it is a part of is performing poorly.

This would help reduce the time taken to rebroker academies if a trust fails, and would provide “additional capacity” within the system.

3. The government must be better prepared to deal with failing MATs

The report warns that the government takes too long to find new sponsors for schools that need rebrokering, which often has “a detrimental impact on schools in terms of their admissions, and teacher retention and recruitment.”

Instead, the Department for Education should work have a “better understanding of where failure may happen in the future” and make sure other trusts in the area have capacity to take on extra schools.

4. Poorly performing councils should face government intervention

Although the DfE cannot force academisation in areas where local authority schools are consistently underachieving, the EPI has said it should consider ways in which it can “intervene at an individual school level in these areas”, including offering support from the regional schools commissioners.

6. Local authorities should publish the same performance data as MATs

The DfE should publish the same performance information about local authority schools as it does about academy chains, the report says, in order to create an “understanding of where high and low performance is occurring”.

7. MATs run more poorly performing primary schools

The EPI analysis reveals that academy chains are “disproportionately represented” amongst the worst performing groups of primary schools, with 12 making it into the bottom 20. For the top performing primary schools, just one MAT – Harris Federation – makes it into the top 10.

8. London councils have the highest performing secondary schools

London secondary schools are performing better than others around the country, with five of the top six performing local authorities based in the capital.

Although 14 of the top 20 performing secondary school groups are trusts, three of the worst four are also run by academy chains.

Bright Tribe Trust, which has relinquished all but one of its northern schools, is the lowest performer in the country.