Bigger trusts get better exam results for poorer pupils, but are more likely than others to suspend children and have higher unexplained exits, according to a new inclusion tool.
The Education Policy Institute think tank has today launched a new online tool that allows school groups – councils and academy trusts – to be compared based on how inclusive they are.
Measures include admissions, exclusions and attainment of disadvantaged pupils.
Louis Hodge, associate director at EPI, said it wanted to “promote a more balanced picture of the relative strengths and weaknesses of different school groups” rather than solely focusing on attainment.
A report published alongside the tool found trusts with ten or more schools have on average higher rates of persistent absence, suspension and unexplained exits, than smaller multi-academy trusts (MATs) and councils.
However, they admit more disadvantaged pupils and achieve better outcomes for those youngsters.
Researchers said there was “considerably more” variation among school group types – for instance, between different trusts – than between councils and trusts overall.
Council schools have lower suspension rates
But council schools did have lower suspension rates than the average MAT. However, this is likely down to trusts taking on the most difficult schools.
MATs also deliver higher progress scores for both disadvantaged and low-prior-attaining pupils than councils.
However, the best-performing groups tended to receive fewer applications from poorer pupils, suggesting “there are barriers” to admission for those children.
One of the issues with the tool is that the data used is from before Covid-19, spanning 2016–17 to 2018–19.
However, Hodge said it shows pupil demographics “must be reflected in the school accountability system”.
This would ensure schools with more poorer pupils and those with additional needs “are not penalised and that best practice in pupil inclusion is recognised”.
Schools Week revealed last year that plans to add contextual information alongside exam results into league tables had been shelved over concerns about inconsistencies in how children with SEND are identified.
Using EPI’s new web tool, we looked at the five largest MATs at the time to see how they performed at secondary level.
United Learning was in the top 10 per cent of all school groups for progress made among poorer pupils at GCSE. But, at the time, it had among the highest levels of unexplained exits and suspensions.
A spokesperson for the trust said they “welcome any additional means of analysing data between schools and trusts”.
Academies Enterprise Trust, the second largest at the time, also had high suspensions and unexplained exits, but scored just four out of ten on the progress of poor pupils (where ten is the best).
A spokesperson said the trust five years ago is “not the AET of today”. They added it was a “fantastic tool from EPI that will offer really powerful insights and we look forward to using it when populated with more current data”.
The Harris Federation appears to have among the most favourable outcomes of the top five, with the best results for poorer pupils and low suspension levels.
High suspensions at Ofsted chief’s former trust
Outwood Grange Academies Trust, formerly run by Ofsted chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver, had the highest rates of suspensions of any school group.
It was considerably higher than any other apart from Northern Education Trust, which had the second highest.
An OGAT spokesperson previously said its schools had been “under-performing for years and were some of the most challenging in the system when we took them on. These schools have been transformed by OGAT.”
A NET spokesperson said at the time of the data, ten of its schools had never been judged ‘good’ or better by Ofsted.
“Many were schools where behaviour was a significant barrier to learning,” they added. “We do not apologise for having high standards. All our inspected schools are now rated good or outstanding.”
Think tank wants accountability review
EPI has now called for a review on the accountability and inspection system and admissions to focus more on inclusion measures.
It also wants the Department for Education to publish “easily accessible metrics for school groups” so people can see the “relative strengths and weaknesses of schools”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of Association of School and College Leaders union, added the new platform “is not a tool to beat anyone over the head, but allows for a more nuanced understanding of the education system, and, flowing from that, what steps might better help support children and schools”.
A DfE spokesperson said it shows academies “play a crucial role in improving education standards, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds”.
They “back heads” using suspensions and exclusions to deliver “calm, safe and supportive learning environments”.