The battle lines are drawn
With the NUT taking up the fight against forced academistaion and a petition doing the rounds against it too (130,000 signatures thus far ) it is worth reflecting what research tells us about the impact academies have on pupil outcomes. . Broadly it tells us that academies are not in themselves a panacea for improving outcomes.
Opposition to forced academisation is coalescing around three main arguments. There are outstanding schools that are not academies-so why force them to change their status- ie ‘ if it aint broke don’t fix it.’ This is probably the strongest argument. Secondly, there is no compelling evidence that academies overall perform better than maintained schools. Thirdly, if you take all schools out of LA influence, then you lose democratic accountability and make it more difficult for LAs to perform their other functions ie ensuring a school place for every child, improving inclusion, social equity etc etc.
Research from Stephen Gorard ,of Durham University, in 2014 confirmed earlier studies in ‘ finding no convincing evidence that Academies are any more (or less) effective than the schools they replaced or are in competition with.’ ‘The prevalence of Academies in any area is strongly associated with local levels of SES segregation, and this is especially true of the more recent Converter Academies. Converter Academies, on average, take far less than their fair share of disadvantaged pupils. Sponsor-led Academies, on the other hand, tend to take more than their fair share. Their profiles are so different that they must no longer be lumped together for analysis as simply’ Academies’. Academies are not shown to be the cause of local SES segregation. Instead they are merely more likely to appear in areas that already have inequitable school mixes. This means, of course, that Academies are not helping reduce segregation (as was one of their original purposes) or increase social justice in education, and the paper concludes that maintained schools should be preferred for this purpose.’
Gorard concludes that:
‘To say that struggling Academies are doing no better than their non-Academy peers or predecessors is not to denigrate them. They are doing no worse than their peers either, with equivalent pupils. Nor does it mean that good work has not been done in and by Academies. But it does demonstrate that the Programme is a waste of time and energy at least in terms of this rather narrow measure of outcomes. There is no success specific to Academies that might not also have come from straightforward increased investment in ‘failing’ schools’.
The government clearly thinks that rapid academisation is the answer to improving pupil outcomes, while admitting that too many academies are not delivering significantly improved results. It should therefore more clearly argue the case for what changes academisation will make, whether they are feasible given capacity issues and the tight timescale envisaged, and how these changes will lead to long‑term benefit for learners. While many in education back the academies programme (though some supporters are split over forced academisation) because, crucially, it affords more ‘autonomy’ to schools, there are concerns over why performance is so patchy . It is also the case , worryingly, that the relationship between the government (DFE) and some large academy chains, the bodies tasked with driving reforms , are strained.
Some might argue that the reasons for the patchiness in performance is because the programme has now become overly centralised and subject to too much intervention and too little real autonomy, as well as de-facto restrictions on the scope for academies and MATs to innovate. They could have a point.
Also see NFER