House of Commons briefing paper – academies

April 12th, 2016

The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper: Every School an Academy: The White Paper Proposals. It’s a useful summary of the legal and policy background to the proposal that every school will be an academy by 2022. There’s also a section on the reactions to the proposal and concerns raised. 

The paper reminds us that there are now 5,170 academies (including free schools) across England and a further 413 have been approved. The first academies were established in 2002, but the vast majority were created under the Academies Act 2010 from 2010/11 onwards. The report explains that:

  • Converters dominated new academies in the first few years of the last Government with more than 800 in both 2010/11 and 2011/12 compared to a total stock of just over 200 under the Labour Government. The number of new converters has fallen in each year since 2011/12 to 455 in 2014/15 (the last full academic year).
  • After an initial flurry of secondary academies in 2010/11 and 2011/12, the increase has largely been in primary academies.
  • The number of new sponsor-led academies approached 400 in both 2012/13 and 2013/14. These new sponsor led academies have opened under the last Government’s extension of the original sponsor led model.
  • In January 2016 there were 3,490 academies that were part of 936
    different Multi-Academy Trusts. This was 68% of all academies and included just over 2,200 primaries, almost 1,100 secondaries and around 170 non- mainstream schools. 233 schools were formally part of a MAT, but one with only a single ‘member’. In total 748 MATs included fewer than five schools.
  • The report also includes interesting information about differences in the proportion of academies across different local authority areas.

The report summarises the changes that have already been introduced by the Education and Adoption Act 2016 and the proposals in the White Paper. It includes interesting analysis, in particular on the proposed new legal framework and the ownership of academy land. It then sets out the reaction to the proposals of some of the main players in the education field. It identifies the key issues as:

  • the capacity, autonomy and performance of MATs;
  • the speed of the proposed universal academisation;
  • the impact on local democracy of ending local authority maintained schools;
  • local authority duties, particularly those relating to the sufficiency of school places;
  • the impact on teachers’ pay and qualified teacher status;
  • the cost of academisation;
  • the particular risk to primary schools, due to their small size and the numbers that have not converted to date;
  • risks for other small schools;
  • land transfer issues;
  • whether the move amounts to nationalisation or privatisation;
  • the proposed legal framework; and
  • the future role for local authorities in respect of admissions.

Section 6 of the report considers the evidence about academy performance to date. It starts by looking at GCSE results, because most primary academies have only been open for a few years. The report found that:

  • Overall more pupils at converter academies achieved 5+ GCSEs at A*-C including English and maths than pupils in maintained schools. The difference was clear, 64.3% compared to 56.0%. Sponsored academies performed less well on this measure and again the difference was clear; 45.8% around ten percentage points below the maintained school average. There was a broadly similar pattern of results on the other headline attainment indicators. The report points out that this is not surprising because converters are generally better performing schools and sponsored academies were generally underperforming.
  • Differences in pupil attainment by school type are still connected to the types of schools that have converted rather than just the impact of academy status on the improvement in results at these schools.
  • Analysis of GCSE results in academies by the length of time they have been an academy shows no clear pattern.
  • In the past academies have been criticised for relying too heavily on qualifications equivalent to a GCSE to improve their headline performance. Changes in the calculation of GCSE results since 2013/14 have limited the ‘value’ of equivalent qualifications. However, analysis of results by type still show that sponsored academies rely on equivalents – including applied GCSEs and BTECs- to a greater degree than converters and mainstream schools.
  • Research for the LSE Centre for Economic Performance comparing pre- and post-2010 academies found substantial differences in types of schools becoming academies and ‘significant’ improvements in ability of students at pre-2010 academies, but not in post-2010 ones. The authors concluded “Altogether this suggests that simple extrapolation from the evidence on the effects of the first batch of conversions to the second batch is clearly not warranted and potentially very misleading.”

The report also looks at Ofsted inspection judgements and found a “very clear pattern within academies with converters much more likely to be rated as outstanding and sponsored academies more likely to be rated as inadequate or requires improvement. This reflects the nature of the two academy ‘models’. When all types of academies are combined there was a higher proportion of academies rated outstanding, but more maintained schools rated as good at primary and secondary level and overall. The overall outstanding or good (combined) total was somewhat higher among maintained primaries and secondary academies. In all phases academies were more likely to be rated as ‘inadequate’”.

The report then summarises the findings of the Commons Education Committee report (January 2015), the Sutton Trust ‘Chain Effects’ report (July 2015), the National Foundation for Educational Research: Guide to the evidence (April 2015), the Policy Exchange report on the impact of free schools (March 2015) and the National Foundation for Educational Research report (October 2014).

The report also covers the White Paper proposals for school-led improvement, accountability, the curriculum and funding reform in some detail.

Rachel Kamm, 11KBW, @kamm11KBW 

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