The impact of academies on educational outcomes

The expansion of the academies programme has been one of the biggest changes to the English education system in a generation, with 3.4 million children now taught in either a sponsored or a converter academy. To help inform discussion about the performance of academies and their impact on educational outcomes, The Education Policy Institute (EPI) has published a new report. The report brings together research conducted in 2016 by the London School of Economics and the EPI on the performance of different types of academies as well as that of Multi-Academy Trusts.

Overall, the report finds that the expansion of the academies programme has had little impact on education outcomes. For the earlier sponsored academies, which opened between 2002 and 2010, a positive effect equivalent to one grade higher per pupil in each of five GCSE subjects was found. Modest improvement was found in post-2010 convertor academies, although smaller than the effects of the pre-2010 sponsored academies. Schools that were rated as “outstanding” prior to converting to academy status between 2010 and 2014 showed improvement of around one grade higher per pupil in two GCSE subjects on average. However, there was no evidence of improvement for “good” and “satisfactory” schools that converted to academy status.

Source: The impact of academies on educational outcomes (July 2017), Education Policy Institute

Better results for academies

A new report from NFER explores the association between academy status and the attainment of pupils in high-stakes exams.

Academy schools in England are funded by the state but have the ability to teach a different curriculum from the national curriculum, are not bound by the school teachers’ pay and conditions document, and set their own admissions policy. The first academies to be founded in the mid to late 2000s were sponsored academies, under-performing schools whose running is taken over by a sponsor. Now more academies are converter academies, maintained schools deemed to be high-performing that choose to become academies.

Comparing similar schools’ performance in 2015, the report finds that, for secondary schools:

  • The proportion of pupils achieving five or more A*-C grade GCSEs (national high-stakes exams taken at 16) including English and maths was 2.7 percentage points higher in secondary sponsored academies than in similar maintained schools.
  • The proportion of pupils achieving five or more A*-C grade GCSEs including English and maths was 1.1 percentage points higher in secondary converter academies than in similar maintained schools.

Both results were statistically significant.

For primary schools:

  • The average proportion of pupils who achieved National Curriculum (NC) level 4 (the expected standard for most pupils) at the end of Key Stage 2 (age 11) in sponsored academies was 1.2 percentage points higher than in similar maintained schools.
  • The average proportion of pupils who achieved NC level 4 at the end of Key Stage 2 in converter academies was 0.9 percentage points higher than in similar maintained schools.

Neither result was statistically significant.

Source: Analysis of Academy School Performance in 2015 (2016), NFER.

Attending an academy does not accelerate progress

A new report from NFER has analysed the performance of academy schools in 2014 GCSEs, and found no significant link between their academy status and improved pupil progress.

The research, which was conducted for the Local Government Association, compared academies that had been open for between two and four years and a group of maintained schools that had similar characteristics at the time the other schools became academies. Sponsored and converter academies were considered separately.

The analysis shows that the amount of attainment progress made by pupils in both sponsored and converter academies was not greater than in maintained schools with similar characteristics. In almost all analyses, the difference in average GCSE outcomes was small and not statistically significant.

However, the difference in the percentage of pupils at the sponsored academies who achieved five or more A* to C grades (including equivalent qualifications), including English and mathematics, was statistically significant compared to those at the similar maintained schools.

In terms of specific groups of pupils, there was evidence that the attainment gap between pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) and those who were not eligible was narrower in converter academies, and this was statistically significant. The gap was also narrower in the sponsored academies, but was not statistically significant. The analysis shows the attainment gaps for low- and high-ability pupils in both sponsored and converter academies and similar maintained schools was very similar.

Source: Analysis of Academy School Performance in GCSEs 2014: Final Report (2015), Local Government Association.

Mixed results for academies

The Sutton Trust has published a new report exploring the impact of academy chains on outcomes for low-income pupils.

The authors focused their research on academy chains that had at least three academies in 2013, and two sponsored secondary academies for the whole period from September 2010 to July 2013. Although there are now almost 4,000 academies and 192 chains (according to the June 2014 DfE academies list), only 31 chains met the inclusion criteria.

The authors considered the outcomes for disadvantaged pupils (those who were ever eligible for Free School Meals between Year 6 and Year 11, and looked-after children) and found wide variation. When analysed against a range of Government indicators on attainment, a majority of the chains still underperform the mainstream average on attainment for their disadvantaged pupils. They also found that while sponsored academies in chains achieve higher results than all mainstream schools on some measures, this reflected a greater use of equivalent qualifications.

However, the report also found that the improvement in disadvantaged pupils achieving five A*-C GCSEs (including maths and English) in 16 sponsored academies exceeded the figure for all mainstream schools, and that five chains are achieving high attainment for disadvantaged pupils (and for pupils of all types) across a whole range of measures. The key factors for success in the more successful chains were identified as a measured approach to expansion, and the importance of building up strong experience of strategies for improving schools.

Source: Chain Effects: The Impact of Academy Chains on Low Income Students (2014), The Sutton Trust.

Academies under-performing on GCSEs

NFER have released a new report analysing the progress between Key Stage 2 and GCSE of pupils attending academy schools and non-academy schools. The authors found that in 2011 and 2012 pupils at academy schools achieved, on average, higher attainment outcomes and made more progress between KS2 and KS4 than those at non-academy schools when taking into account both GCSEs and non-GCSE qualifications (eg, NVQs).

However, analysis of the 2012 data excluding non-GCSE qualifications show that academy schools (that had held that status for more than two years) had average GCSE scores that were significantly lower than non-academy schools. The authors say that this may indicate alternative entry policies into GCSE and non-GCSE qualifications, or that pupils in academies perform particularly well in non-GCSE subjects.

Longitudinal analysis of GCSE outcomes from 2007 to 2012 showed no significant improvement in the rate of improvement of GCSE results for academy schools over and above the rate of improvement in all schools.

The research took into account other school level factors that may have been associated with a variation in progress, including the proportion of pupils receiving free school meals and with special educational needs, as well as geographical location.

Source: Analysis of Academy School Performance in the 2011 and 2012 GCSEs (2013), NFER.

Schools need more than just autonomy to improve standards

A new report from Australia’s Grattan Institute uses data from two international surveys conducted by the OECD – the Programme for International School Assessment (PISA) and the Teaching and Learning International Survey – to explore a number of issues around standards, including whether giving schools more autonomy can improve achievement.

The report concludes that the link between high autonomy and high performance is weak. Instead, the world’s best-performing school systems articulate the best ways to teach and learn, then implement reform through high-quality systems of teacher development, appraisal, and feedback, among other policies. Autonomous schools in Australia and other countries, they say, are no better at implementing these programmes than are centralised schools.