Report examines academy chain performance with disadvantaged pupils

The Sutton Trust has published its fifth and final Chain Effects report, examining the impact of sponsored academy chains on disadvantaged pupils.

The analysis includes all chains with at least two secondary or all-age sponsored academies which have consistently been part of the same chain for three academic years, and which had pupils taking GCSE exams in each of those years. Not all of these are organised as MATs.

The report finds that:

  • Overall, academy chains under-perform the mainstream average for disadvantaged pupils.
  • However, the report caveats this by pointing out that a small number of academy chains have provided exactly the kind of transformational outcomes that were initially anticipated by policy-makers.
  • Academy chains are in the main providing for a disproportionately disadvantaged pupil demographic in terms of pupil prior attainment as well as socioeconomic disadvantage, which it sees as consistent with the original mission of the academies programme. It says that this level of challenge has been “naively disregarded” by Government. It recommends that the DfE recognises the time it takes to turn around struggling schools
  • It regrets that some chains have responded to government accountability and incentives in ways which are arguably not necessarily in their disadvantaged students’ interests, including “entering pupils into all EBacc subjects even when they are unlikely to achieve standard level passes, as well as more dubious strategies such as off-rolling.”

The report finds that the characteristics of high performing academy chains are:

  • being longer established and having grown slowly;
  • having strong experience of strategies for improving schools;
  • only taking on schools that are exceptionally challenging when they have the capacity to support them;
  • having fewer pupils with low prior attainment;
  • having developed effective strategies to respond to national changes in the curriculum and in key performance indicators (some of which may involve ‘game-playing’);
  • learning from the strategies used in other trusts;
  • having a sustained mission and commitment to improving the education of disadvantaged pupils.

Read the full report here.

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