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Chain Effects 2015

The impact of academy chains on low-income students

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Academies were started in 2000 to alter the fortunes of failing schools that disproportionately served students from some of the nation’s poorest communities. This is the second in a series of reports that analyses their effectiveness at helping the most disadvantaged pupils, focussing particularly on sponsored academy chains.


  • Overall, in comparison with the national figures for all secondary schools and academies (‘mainstream schools’), the sponsored academies in this analysis have lower inspection grades and are twice as likely to be below the floor standard. In 2014, 44% of the academies in the analysis group were below the government’s new ‘coasting level’ and 26 of the 34 chains that we have analysed had one or more schools in this group.
  • The contrast between the best and worst chains has increased in 2014. Some chains with high attainment for disadvantaged pupils have improved faster than the average for schools with similar 2012 attainment. In contrast, the lowest performing chains did significantly less well over the period 2012-14 than schools with similarly low 2012 attainment.
  • Although results for young people with low prior attainment have generally fallen across all school types, on average the fall was less dramatic for chains than for other types of school, and a few chains succeeded in significantly improving the attainment of this group, an important demonstration of value.
  • When analysed against a range of Government indicators on attainment, a majority of the chains analysed still underperform the mainstream average on attainment for their disadvantaged pupils. As in 2012, while some of those below the average are continuing to improve, others are not.



  1. The Department for Education (DfE) should expand its pool of school improvement providers beyond academy sponsors, including developing new school-led trusts and federations, particularly if it is to address the growing focus on coasting schools.
  2. New chains should not be allowed to expand until they have a track record of success in bringing about improvement in their existing academies.
  3. Since our last report, Ofsted has had its ability to inspect chains extended but these fall short of the formal powers they enjoy over academies individually and other education providers. Ofsted should be empowered to undertake formal inspections of academy chains.
  4. Funding agreements for new sponsors should be shortened to five years from seven. And the government should not renew funding agreements where improvement has not been demonstrated.
  5. The DfE should include a measure of progress for disadvantaged pupils in their definition of coasting schools, to be applied to all school types.
  6. Sponsor chains – but especially those needing to improve – should seek out successful practice and reflect on what their own chain could learn from it, and encourage this outward-facing approach among practitioners at all levels within their academies.

You can read the 2014 Chain Effects here.