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‘Significant variation’ in success of academies

There are ‘significant variations’ between the best and worst performing academy chains in England, with regards to the results and improvement of their disadvantaged pupils, according to a new report from the Sutton Trust.

On average, the improvement for disadvantaged pupils in attaining 5A*C GCSEs, including English and Mathematics (5A*C EM), in sponsored academies was greater than the average for all mainstream schools between 2011 and 2013.

In this two year period, the proportion of poorer teenagers nationally – at all mainstream schools – that scored at least five C grades, including the basics, rose by 4.2%. The report revealed that in 16 of the chains examined poorer pupils' improvement on this measure alone was greater than this national average.

However, it goes on to say that five chains improved significantly more than the 4.2% average. They were Barnfield Education Partership, the City of London Corporation, the David Ross Education Trust, the Diocese of Salisbury and Leigh Academies Trust.

But, within the figures, the Sutton Trust researchers found that almost half the academy chains it surveyed failed to do better than mainstream local authority schools in getting their disadvantaged pupils to obtain 5A*CEM.

Performance was worst in the English Baccalaureate. Overall, 23 of the chains failed to do better than the average school - while only seven did better. A similar picture emerged when looking at disadvantaged pupils’ performance in eight key subjects at GCSE.

Professor Becky Francis, of King’s College London, said: “Some chains are securing excellent results for their disadvantaged pupils across a whole range of measures, showing what can be achieved her by experienced chains with a planned approach to growth.

“Their work should be recognised and applauded. But others are doing badly on important measures, and risk becoming part of the problem rather than the solution for their disadvantaged pupils. The government needs to increase transparency and scrutiny of academy chains.”

Recommendations from the Trust include empowering Ofsted to undertake formal inspections of academy chains, and to make judgements on their provision, based on clear criteria.

It has also been suggested the DfE should publish data on chains’ performance, across a range of measures, and it should make its procedures for awarding sponsorship more transparent.

A spokesperson for the DfE said GCSE results in sponsored academies were improving at a faster rate than in local authority schools and that the proportion of pupils taking the English Baccalaureate in them doubled last year.

He added: “Additionally, across all schools, the proportion of pupils on free school meals taking the EBacc has also more than doubled in two years.”

He praised the work of academy chains such as Ark and Harris, and several of the newer trusts, whose improvement was highlighted in the report, adding: “The over-riding objective of our education reforms is to improve the life chances of the poorest children.”

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