Academies are not doing enough to work with other schools in their neighbourhoods and so are not fulfilling one of their original objectives according to a report published today by the Institute of Education, University of London, which was confirmed last week as the leading centre for educational research in the UK.
The Institute of Education’s review, commissioned by the Sutton Trust, examines the existing literature relating to the programme and compares the performance of the 130 Academies established so far with their original long term aims – the first of which was to raise achievement levels not just for their own pupils but for their families of schools and the wider community.
It calls on the Government to ‘revisit and refine’ the objectives of their flagship programme and says that academies are ‘more likely to have more influence if they co-operate with neighbouring schools in terms of admissions, exclusions and sharing their resources.’
It refers to concern that the high level of exclusions in some Academies may be having an adverse impact on other neighbouring schools. The authors therefore welcome the move towards Academies participating in ‘behaviour partnerships’ with other schools.
The report also recommends that admission practices should be more closely monitored to make sure they do not harm the intakes of other schools. It suggests that area-wide banding would ensure that other schools were not harmed by the success of Academies.
Professor Geoff Whitty, Director of the Institute and co-author of the report, said: “Although there is much to commend in the Academies programme, it is important that research identifies areas where it might do better, as well as highlighting good practice. There is a welcome trend towards greater partnerships between schools (in behaviour partnerships and 14-19 diploma provision) and it is vital that Academies play a full role in this collaboration.”
Dr Lee Elliot Major, Research Director for the Sutton Trust, warns that the decline in the proportion of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) currently at Academies is a cause for concern. The proportion has dropped from 45.3% in 2003 to 29% in 2008. This reflects a decline in FSM rates in older Academies as well as the fact that many of the newer Academies have lower FSM rates.
Dr Elliot Major commented: “This is something that needs to be watched closely. It is good that Academies are attracting a wide range of pupils, but it is also important they reflect the local communities they serve. Poorer pupils deserve the chance to benefit from what are often excellent schools on their doorsteps.”
The report also considers some alternatives to Academies and concludes: “Academies are in danger of being regarded by politicians as a panacea for a broad range of educational problems. Given the varied performance of Academies to date, conversion to an Academy may not always be the best route to improvement.”