Balance of evidence finds Academies have only small beneficial effects on pupil performance
The latest research from Stephen Machin and Olma Silva from the Centre for Economic Performance asks two basic questions – does school autonomy work? And does it offer scope to improve the lot of disadvantaged students ie those in the lower tail of the education distribution? Their conclusion is probably not, or at least not in England . They write ‘ Whilst there is a paucity of robust and coherent evidence to draw upon, it does not seem unreasonable to say that, on balance, the evidence that does exist at best shows only small beneficial effects on overall pupil performance and very little consistent evidence of improvements for tail students.’
They find little evidence that academies up to 2009, helped pupils in the bottom 10% and 20% of the ability distribution. Furthermore, they find little evidence that late converters (2008 and 2009) had any beneficial effects on pupils of any ability. The authors conclude their research by comparing the experience of UK academies to that of US charter schools and Swedish free schools, and by providing some insights into the reasons why UK academies did not serve ‘the tail’ as is the case for some US charter schools.(the implication here is that charter schools because they have a performance contract ( ie the charter) are held more directly accountable for performance than are academy schools)
In conclusion the authors say ‘ it may be that in the longer run the best academies will flourish and spread their practices across the education market in a tide that lifts all boats and so raises the achievement of pupils of all abilities. However, in order to guarantee that these more autonomous institutions can make a difference for the tail, new ‘rules of the game’ should be designed to make sure that schools have incentives to focus on the most disadvantaged student and, at the same time, are held accountable for their improvements.’
School Structure, School Autonomy and the Tail Stephen Machin and Olmo Silva-Centre for Economic Performance- March 2013
Note. The new Pupil Premium is supposed to provide an incentive for schools to target the most disadvantaged pupils and to close the achievement gap ,although the challenge is to use this extra money on interventions that work. One reliable source tells me that technology companies are seeking to persuade schools that the Pupil Premium is best invested in new computers and education software, although I can find no evidence to back the claim that computers improve the performance of the most disadvantaged pupils.Tackling the long tail of underachievers remains the biggest challenge in education. One hopes and trusts that Ofsted will keep a close eye on how schools use these extra funds.