Report Overview

Our Chain Effects report series analyses school performance data to review how well disadvantaged pupils achieve in sponsored academies in academy chains. This report re-runs our analysis for a third year, based on 2015 exam results. As previously, we included chains in our analysis only if they had at least three academies in 2015, and at least two sponsored secondary academies for a three year period from September 2012 – sufficient time for the sponsor chain to impact performance. This report is written by Merryn Hutchings, Becky Francis, and Philip Kirby.

Key Findings

  • The sponsored academies in this analysis have lower Ofsted inspection grades compared with the national figures for all secondary schools and academies (‘mainstream schools’). The academies in our analysis group are twice as likely as mainstream schools to be below the floor standard
  • There continues to be very significant variation in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, both between and within chains

    1. This year we identified seven out of 39 chains that are performing significantly above the national average for all mainstream schools (maintained and academies), for their disadvantaged pupils. Around half (18 out of 39) are improving faster than the national average
    2. However, we found 13 that are attaining significantly below the national average. Of particular concern are the eight chains in which both attainment and improvement were below the mainstream average
  • Those chains that were most successful with disadvantaged pupils also tended to be successful with their more affluent pupils, while less successful chains tended to have poor results for both groups
  • In 2015 chains entered fewer young people to the EBacc than in 2014, but a greater proportion of those pupils entered succeeded in achieving the EBacc
  • The proportion of chains in our analysis group performing above the mainstream average for their disadvantaged pupils has fallen year on year from 2013 to 2015


For policy makers:

  1. The Government, National Schools Commissioner and Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) must act urgently to create mechanisms to ensure the spread of good practice from the best academy chains to the rest
  2. The Education Secretary told the Education Select Committee on 27th April 2016 that new chains should not be allowed to expand until they have a track record of success. It is vital that this commitment is followed through
  3. RSCs should continue to tighten the quality criteria for sponsorship, based on quality, capacity, strategic model and track record
  4. Given the urgency of improvement, and the simultaneous need to tighten rigour in sponsor commissioning, the Department for Education (DfE) should allow RSCs to expand their pools of school improvement providers beyond academy sponsors
  5. RSCs should continue to sharpen and make more transparent sponsor accountability processes, acting to remove academies from failing chains and closing those chains with poor records
  6. Measures must be taken to enable parents and the wider public to assess the quality of chains. We welcome the DfE’s commitment to future publication of results for different chains. However, we continue also to advocate the benefit of independent, accessible information, and believe that at present Ofsted is best placed to provide this
  7. Where free schools form part of academy chains this should be made clear on the DfE’s list of free schools, so that any analysis can include all the schools in each chain.

For sponsors and schools:

  1. Sponsor chains – but especially those needing to improve – should seek out successful practice and reflect on what their own chain could learn from it, encouraging this outward-facing approach among practitioners at all levels within their academies
  2. There is growing evidence on the most effective strategies for school improvement, including the Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Toolkit. Sponsors and schools should make full use of this

Please see PDFs for Summary tables and case studies.