The Sutton Trust has prepared an initial response to the announcement due to be made by the Chancellor at Budget 2016 that every school is to become an academy, as well as offering views on the proposal to lengthen the school day.

Government proposal – all schools to become academy schools

The best academy chains are having a transformational impact on pupils’ life chances, but others have seriously underperformed and have expanded too rapidly. The Sutton Trust compiles an annual analysis of their effectiveness at helping the most disadvantaged pupils in Chain Effects. We find that while a third of chains performed above average on attainment (for all schools and academies for their poorest pupils), and half have improved since 2012, others underperformed significantly. Based on our evidence, our position is as follows:

  • The expectation that every school should become an academy is not surprising given the direction of recent policy, but this is still a huge step away from the original purpose of academies – tackling failure in schools serving poorer pupils.
  • Our evidence suggests a mixed picture on the extent to which academy chains are meeting this goal –11 out of 34 established chains outperforming the national average for attainment in 2014 while 17 of 34 improved faster than average between 2012 and 2014.
  • Geographically focused chains or multi-academy trusts may help produce economies of scale to improve subject choice, professional development and business management.
  • There is a big question mark about the capacity of the system to provide the hundreds of new leaders required for multi-academy trusts to transform outcomes for the disadvantaged and improve social mobility; if we don’t get this right disadvantaged pupils will be the biggest losers of this huge structural change.

The Sutton Trust recommends:

  • The Department for Education should provide the resources to develop new school-led multi-academy trusts and federations, not least to address the growing focus on coasting school. This will be crucial with small primary schools.
  • Chains should only be allowed to expand when they have a track record of success in bringing about improvement in their existing academies; the government should not renew funding agreements where improvement has not been demonstrated
  • 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.

Government proposal – Longer School Day

We welcome plans to increase funding for enrichment in state schools through the ‘longer school day’. Our research has shown that enrichment activities can make a difference to disadvantaged pupils’ life chances. We would like to see some of the new funds being used to enable poorer pupils to access out-of-school cultural and sporting activities and to provide highly able secondary pupils with an enriched curriculum linked to leading universities. Our research shows that:

  • The Sutton Trust/EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit shows that pupils make two additional months’ progress per year from extended school time or the targeted use of before and after school programmes. Disadvantaged pupils benefit disproportionately, making approximately two and a half months’ additional progress. There are often wider benefits for low-income students in better school attendance, behaviour and relationships with peers. Evidence based after school programmes that support children academically, while providing stimulating environments and activities, can improve outcomes.
  • 76% of parents across all social groups involved their children in some form of regular extra-curricular social activity over the last year. Parents with professional or administrative occupations are 15% more likely than those with manual or routine jobs to involve their children in these activities (Sutton Trust, Extracurricular Inequalities, 2013)
  • The ONS Living Costs and Food Survey shows top earners are almost four times more likely than bottom earners to have paid for out of school enrichment classes.
  • Bright but disadvantaged students were significantly more likely to go on to get four or more AS-levels when they had attended any pre-school, especially one of higher quality (rather than no pre-school) and where they had competent teachers and engaged in academic enrichment activities at home, such as reading or learning opportunities including family visits to museums and galleries, between the ages of 11 and 14. (Sutton Trust, Subject to Background, 2014)

 All our evidence tells us that it is the quality of teaching that has the most substantial impact on pupil outcomes, especially for the disadvantaged, regardless of school type or setting; developing teachers and raising the quality of teaching should be the priority.


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