William Eichler 19 June 2018

Academies no better than council schools, think tank finds

There is ‘little difference’ between academies and local authority schools when it comes to performance, according to an education think tank.

A new study by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has found that the type of school is less important in determining performance than the group the school is in.

In March 2016 the Department for Education announced that all schools should become academies - or be in the process of becoming one - by 2020 despite scepticism from teachers about the effectiveness of academy status.

Academies are state-funded but privately run institutions. Over two thirds of state-funded secondary schools and over a quarter of state-funded primary schools and special schools were academies by the end of the 2016/17.

The EPI’s study looked at how each school group fared with pupil improvement, taking into account characteristics such as pupil prior attainment and levels of disadvantage, as well as the historic performance of a school.

At primary school level, the EPI found that maintained schools make up 15 of the top 20 school groups, while academy chains are over-represented in the lowest performing groups. In the bottom 20 of all school groups, eight are academy chains.

However, at secondary school level academy chains feature heavily in the top 20 performing school groups. 14 of the top 20 are academy chains.

The EPI recommends that high performing local authorities be allowed to take over schools from underperforming academy chains.

‘In some instances it may be appropriate for schools to return to local authority oversight in the same way that a school may be moved to a high performing academy chain,’ the report says.

‘This would provide additional capacity within the system and would go some way to reducing the time taken to move an academy.’

Responding to the report, Cllr Roy Perry, vice chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Children and Young People Board, said: ‘Councils have an excellent track record in maintaining high educational standards and also in turning round failing schools, with more than 91% of council maintained schools now rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.

‘Across the country, hundreds of schools, often in disadvantaged areas, are already being turned around thanks to the intervention of councils to deliver and maintain strong leadership, outstanding classroom teaching and appoint effective support staff and governors.

‘Councils stand ready to step in and help schools where necessary.’

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