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28.01.15

No ‘convincing’ evidence that academies raise standards

At present there is “no convincing evidence” that academies raise standards either for disadvantaged children or overall, a report from the Education Select Committee (ESC) into England's school system has stated. 

However, the Committee does say it is clear that academisation has led to greater competition, challenging many maintained schools to improve and incentivising local authorities to develop speedier and more effective interventions in underperforming schools. 

At the launch of the report – Academies and Free Schools – Graham Stuart, chair of ESC, said: “It’s still too early to know how much the academies programme has helped raise standards. What we can say is that, however measured, the overall state of schools has improved during the course of the programme. 

“More evidence is urgently needed on the impact of academy status on primary schools and particular efforts made to encourage them to work in collaboration.” 

The Committee has called on the Department for Education (DfE) to become more open about how it runs the programme and give Ofsted full powers to inspect academy chains. 

The ESC report said that while some chains have clearly raised attainment, others achieve worse outcomes creating huge disparities within the academy sector and compared to other mainstream schools.

 The MPs added that their inquiry supports the need for a middle tier between Whitehall and individual schools. They added that Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) are intended to fill that gap but their role is still evolving. It has been recommend that the government clarify what that role is and how it will develop in the near future, and that there needs to be an increase in the number of RSCs. 

ECS also wants DfE to publish clear information setting out the process and criteria by which sponsors are authorised and matched with schools, and that there needs to be separate regulatory and funding roles of the Education Funding Agency, in order to restore public confidence in the academies process. 

Education secretary, Nicky Morgan, said: “This report recognises our plan is delivering what parents want – more chance than ever to send their child to a good local school. As a result of our plan, we have a million more pupils in good or outstanding schools compared to 2010, 100,000 more six-year-olds able to read thanks to our focus on phonics, and an increase of 60% in the proportion of pupils studying core academic subjects at GCSE. 

“Academies and free schools have played a vital role in this transformation by promoting new ideas and approaches, and helping to drive up standards in other local schools as a result.” 

But Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said the report exposes that the coalition government’s obsession with school structures has not transformed educational standards. 

“Academy status is no magic potion to transform schools. In pursing academy conversion the coalition government has neglected interventions which are known and have been proved to work,” said Bousted. “The ESC is right to align itself with the public accounts committee’s criticism of the Education Funding Agency. Academy finances need to be clear, transparent and accessible to all. This is, lest we forget, taxpayers’ money which must be spent on pupils’ education. Conflicts of interest abound in academy trusts.” 

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, added that the current two-tier system of accountability is extremely confusing for parents, with many not knowing if they should report an issue to their council or the DfE. 

“What they do know is that they want their child educated within a safe environment and to the highest standard possible,” he said. “Councils are best-placed to ensure oversight of all schools is effective and any action needed can be taken quickly.” 

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