Research from LSE finds autonomy helps raise standards


Stephen Machin and James Vernoit of the London School of Economics   have just published research looking at the performance of academies created by the last Government. Prof Machin and Mr Vernoit conclude that “the increased autonomy and flexible governance enabled by academy conversion may have had the scope to sharpen incentives to improve performance”.

The research considers the impact of an academy school conversion on their pupil intake and pupil performance and possible external effects working through changes in the pupil intake and pupil performance of neighbouring schools. These lines of enquiry are considered over the school years 2001/02 to 2008/09 ie the last Labour Government. The researchers bypass the selection bias inherent in previous evaluations of academy schools by comparing the outcomes of interest in academy schools to a specific group of comparison schools, namely those state maintained schools that go on to become academies after the  sample period ends. This approach allows the researchers to produce a well-balanced treatment and control group. The results ‘ suggest that moving to a more autonomous school structure through academy conversion generates a significant improvement in the quality of their pupil intake and a significant improvement in pupil performance.’ The report also finds significant external effects on the pupil intake and the pupil performance of neighbouring schools. The paper observes “a strong relationship” between improvements at academies and at local schools – even though higher-achieving pupils started leaving other local schools to go to the new academy.

All of these results are strongest for the schools that have been academies for longer and for those who experienced the largest increase in their school autonomy. The report says ‘In essence, the results paint a (relatively) positive picture of the academy schools that were introduced by the Labour government of 1997-2010. The caveat is that such benefits have, at least for the schools we consider, taken a while to materialise.’

Prof Machin and Mr Vernoit put improvements down to market effects, saying that this is “likely to have come via the increased choice/competition mechanism that has scope to deliver significant positive external effects from academy conversion”.

So far, 357 schools have converted to Academy status   under this government.

Changing School Autonomy; Academy Schools and their introduction to Englands Education;Stephen Machin and  James Vernoit  CEE DP 123


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