The best academy chains outperform other state-funded schools, new Sutton Trust research shows today, while the weakest chains trail their mainstream counterparts in raising standards for their poorest pupils.
The research, by Professor Merryn Hutchings, Professor Becky Francis and Dr Robert de Vries, compares the performance of disadvantaged students – those entitled to the pupil premium – in sponsored academies in 31 chains from 2011-2013.
The report, Chain Effects, includes a new index comparing the chains’ 2013 performance for disadvantaged pupils on the most important attainment measures; including the percentage achieving five A*-C grade GCSEs or equivalent (including English and Maths), the percentage making expected progress in English and Maths, performance in the English Baccalaureate, and overall performance on their best 8 GCSEs.
The report shows that in nine of the 31 chains disadvantaged students in sponsored academies outperformed the average for those in mainstream schools in 2013. Of these, the best performers based on the proportion of disadvantaged pupils gaining five good GCSEs or equivalent are:
In sponsored academies in each of these chains the proportion of disadvantaged students achieving five good GCSEs is at least 15 percentage points higher than the average for disadvantaged students in mainstream schools. These are the same chains that stand out as the best performers across the suite of measures compiled in the index.
The report also shows that, across the board, disadvantaged students in 18 of the 31 chains are improving faster than the national average. On the core five good GCSEs measure, five chains improved significantly more than the national average between 2011 and 2013. These were Barnfield, The City of London Corporation, the David Ross Education Trust, the Diocese of Salisbury, and Leigh Academies Trust.
In all of these chains, the improvement in the proportion of disadvantaged students achieving five good grades in 2013 was at least 18 percentage points – 4.5 times the average rate in all mainstream schools.
However, the report also shows that some chains have improved their results through the use of vocational qualifications given multiple GCSE equivalence, something that will be disallowed from the 2014 national performance tables, and this contributed to the improvements in a number of these chains.
Success on one performance measure does not guarantee success on all – some chains score highly on students attaining five good GCSEs, but fall short in other areas like the English Baccalaureate. For other chains, the reverse is true. And, while some chains are doing well at improving outcomes for their disadvantaged pupils across the board, conversely others are performing poorly against a range of measures.
The report notes that the most successful chains are well established, and have been running academies since at least 2007. The two largest, ARK and Harris, have also grown in a planned way, and have ensured they have had the capacity to do so.
Conor Ryan, Director of Research at the Sutton Trust, said today:
“When academies were first established more than a decade ago, their primary purpose was to lift standards for disadvantaged pupils in areas where schools had been failing. Our report shows that some chains are succeeding well in meeting this goal but others are failing to do so, particularly on those measures against which all schools are increasingly judged.
“Of course, it takes time to turn around failing schools, so we have also highlighted those schools that are showing rapid improvement. However, it is vital that Ofsted routinely inspects academy chains and there is much stronger action taken where chains are consistently underperforming.”
Professor Becky Francis, of King’s College London, said today:
“Some chains are securing excellent results for their disadvantaged pupils across a whole range of measures, showing what can be achieved her by experienced chains with a planned approach to growth. Their work should be recognised and applauded. But others are doing badly on important measures, and risk becoming part of the problem rather than the solution for their disadvantaged pupils. The government needs to increase transparency and scrutiny of academy chains.”
NOTES TO EDITORS