Two thirds of academy chains perform below average for disadvantage pupils

Two-thirds of academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils, according to new analysis by the Sutton Trust. The research analysed the performance of those entitled to the pupil premium in 2017 over five years.

Analysis found that in 38 of the 58 chains analysed, disadvantaged pupils performed below the national average for all state schools. However, poorer pupils in 12 out of 58 chains analysed performed above the national average, including three chains – City of London, Diocese of London, and Harris - which were significantly above the average.
Sponsor-led academies have been promoted by successive governments as a way to improve the educational achievement of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As the academies programme has developed, policymakers have increasingly seen multi-academy trusts (MATs) as the best way of working to improve the performance of previously struggling schools and the educational outcomes of their often disadvantaged pupils.

However, the Sutton Trust’s five-year analysis highlights how much inconsistency there is between chains and overall how they perform below the national average for all state schools. It finds there is the same small group of chains that consistently outperform the national average for disadvantaged pupils, while another small group of chains remain at the bottom of the table each year, and there is little to suggest that the Regional Schools Commissioners are having any success in bringing about improvement.
A small number of chains have shown consistent year on year improvement in the ranking, demonstrating that improvement is possible, for example the Grace Foundation, while others have fallen or fluctuated.
The report highlights some chains entering high numbers of pupils to the EBacc qualification, many of whom fail to achieve the required number of pass marks. Unnecessarily entering students for this optional qualification who are unlikely to succeed can be harmful.
The report also demonstrates that it is long-standing academy chains who show better exam results, with newer chains frequently performing poorly, indicating that it takes time for a new trust to establish effective practices in the schools it takes over.
The report is urging Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) to act more decisively with chains that do not deliver improvement over time. In addition, the government must recognise the challenge of limited capacity in the system and allow RSCs to draw on all successful providers with good track records, including local authorities.

The report is also recommending that the government, and the National and Regional Schools Commissioners to do more to create mechanisms that spread good practice from the best academy chains to the rest.