Nearly half of academy leaders in England believe that the autonomy associated with their status has either had no effect or a negative impact in the classroom, according to new polling for the Sutton Trust published today.

The polling of 1,246 teachers and school leaders across England by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that although 42% of the sample of 143 academy leaders said academy autonomy had a positive effect in the classroom, 30% believed their autonomy had ‘no effect’ and 18% said it had a negative effect.

The polling showed that only 27% of all those – including teachers and leaders – who work in academies thought that their autonomy had a positive impact in the classroom, while only 8% of staff at non-academy schools saw academy autonomy as beneficial.

The polling is being published ahead of a Sutton Trust summit in New York with philanthropic support from Carnegie Corporation of New York today (19 April) which will draw on international evidence on the role of school structural reform, accountability, professional development and the use of research in schools in improving social mobility.

Academies have greater autonomy over the curriculum, school budgets, admissions (within the statutory code) and teachers’ pay than other state-funded schools. They are also funded directly by Whitehall rather than through the local authority.

Of those who did see a positive effect, most cited freedom on the curriculum (63%) and control over resources (60%). Almost half (47%) of those questioned cited the benefits of more collaboration with schools, perhaps reflecting the influence of the growth in multi-academy trusts, and 50% control over learning programmes. Senior leaders also cited freedom from local bureaucracy (51%).

A survey of 501 public school teachers across the United States by YouGov, found that one in four (25%) of US public school teachers surveyed felt that charter school autonomy had a positive effect on the day to day life of teachers in the classroom, with 36% negative, while 20% felt it had no effect.

Today’s new polling also shows that schools in the United Kingdom are increasingly using the pupil premium to plug funding gaps resulting from the real terms spending cuts facing many schools. One in three senior leaders (34%) say the pupil premium is being used to plug gaps in their budget, up from 30% last year.

Over 70% of secondary school leaders say that their schools have had to cut teachers over the last year, with a similar proportion saying the same about teaching assistants or support staff. Staff cuts are lower, but also on the rise in primary schools with 60% cutting teaching assistants and 24% classroom teachers.

Today’s summit in New York will include remarks by Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD and Justine Greening MP, former Education Secretary and Roberto Rodriguez, President and CEO of Teach Plus and a former education adviser to President Obama.

Sir Peter Lampl, fgounder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said today:

“Today’s polling shows that many academy leaders are sceptical about the benefits of their autonomy. The focus should not be on school structures but on improving the quality of teaching in schools. The evidence from work by the Sutton Trust and by the Education Endowment Foundation shows overwhelming that improving quality of teaching is the key to boosting standards for all pupils and disadvantaged pupils in particular.

“It is very worrying that schools are losing teachers as a result of spending cuts. The result is that they are also increasingly plugging funding gaps with the pupil premium.”

LaVerne Srinivasan, Vice President of the National Program and Program Director of Education at Carnegie Corporation of New York, said today:

“We are pleased to support Sutton Trust’s efforts to advance the social mobility of students through education. We value the perspectives of teachers and consider evidence-based teaching practices one of the most important ways to improve schools.

“Through international comparative research and discussion, we hope the Summit will strengthen the understanding of policies and practices that can make schools more effective and generate lessons for policymakers in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.”

The summit will be live-streamed on the Sutton Trust’s Facebook page and on Twitter from 8.45am (EST).


  • The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 200 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  • Carnegie Corporation of New York was established in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. In keeping with this mandate, the Corporation’s work focuses on the issues that Andrew Carnegie considered of paramount importance: international peace, education and knowledge, and a strong democracy.
  • The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is a leading independent provider of rigorous research and insights in education, working to create an excellent education for all children and young people. It is a not for profit organisation, whose robust and innovative research, assessments and other services are widely known and used by key decision-makers. Any surplus generated is reinvested in projects to support its charitable purpose.
  • The NFER runs Teacher Voice omnibus surveys three times a year, in the autumn, spring and summer terms. The survey achieves responses from over 1,000 practising teachers from schools in the maintained sector in England. The panel is representative of teachers from the full range of roles in primary and secondary schools, from head teachers to newly qualified class teachers.
  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 501 US Public School teachers, of which 374 receive funding to help serve students from low-income households. Fieldwork was undertaken between 5th – 12th March 2018 . The survey was carried out online.
  • The Sutton Trust and Carnegie Corporation of New York Best in Class 2018 summit will compare the work that is taking place in teaching and education in the UK with the work that is taking place in the USA and internationally. It will be held at the Paley Center for Media in New York and is taking place on Thursday 19th April 2018.

Other speakers and panellists include: Dr Charles Chew, Public Service Commission Teaching Scholar, Singapore Education Service, Wendy Kopp, CEO and Co-founder of Teach For All, Professor Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at University College London, Sir Michael Wilkins, Founding CEO of Outwood Grange Academies Trust, Sir Michael Wilshaw, formerly Ofsted’s Chief Inspector and currently Professor of Education and Director of Multi-Academy Trusts at St Mary’s University, London, Roblin Webb, founder/CEO of Freedom Prep Charter Schools, Norman Atkins, Co-Founder and President of Relay GSE, Professor Rebecca Allen, Director of the Centre for Education Improvement Science at the UCL Institute of Education, Professor Rob Coe, Professor of Education and Director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) at Durham University, Anthony S. Bryk, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Sir Kevan Collins, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation.

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