Research into the impact of academy chains on the attainment of pupils from low-income families has found that two thirds of the chains are performing below average for disadvantaged children, according to an influential social mobility charity.
While a few chains are having a “transformational” impact on the disadvantaged pupils in their school communities, the Sutton Trust report finds that many more are struggling to significantly improve attainment among their poorest children.
Researchers examined 58 academy chains over a five-year period and found that poorer pupils in 12 of them performed above the national average for disadvantaged children. Three in particular – Harris, City of London and Diocese of London – were significantly above average.
In 38 chains, however, disadvantaged pupils performed below the national average for all state schools, challenging the government trope that academy chains or multi-academy trusts (Mats) offer the best chance to improve struggling schools and boost educational outcomes of disadvantaged pupils.
The academies programme was initiated in 2000 under Labour, replacing relatively small numbers of secondary schools in areas of social deprivation with the express aim of improving the chances of the most disadvantaged children. It has since been hugely extended by the Conservatives, who have overseen the transfer of thousands of schools out of local authority control to academy sponsors.
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The shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said the report showed “academisation in and of itself does not improve educational standards or outcomes for children, yet the government have continued to treat it as the solution at a time when they have slashed school budgets and seen teacher numbers fall.”
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The foundational myth of the academies programme – that it would boost educational attainment among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds – must now be laid to rest as just that: a myth.”
The Sutton Trust’s five-year analysis highlights how the same small group of long-standing chains consistently outperform the national average for disadvantaged pupils. Another small group are stuck at the bottom of the table, while “a small number” have shown consistent year-on-year improvement
It also flags up how some academy chains are choosing to enter high numbers of pupils for the optional EBacc qualification – a suite of the most academic subjects, which influences a school’s league table standing – but many students are failing to achieve a pass, magnifying their disadvantage.
Professor Becky Francis, director of the UCL Institute of Education and co-author of the report, Chain Effects 2018, said: “Our five-year analysis of sponsor academies’ provision for disadvantaged pupils shows that while a few chains are demonstrating transformational results for these pupils, more are struggling.”
She said it was “perplexing” the government had done so little to explore the methods of the most successful chains and share them with others. “We continue to call for this, and to call for the government to capitalise on the successes of a range of schooling organisations, whether Mats or local authorities, in order to do the best we can for all pupils.”