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7 ways academy trusts could give poorer pupils a better deal

Sutton Trust calls for regional schools commissioners to 'act more firmly with chains that do not deliver improvement'

The Sutton Trust's 2018 Chain Effects report makes seven recommendations to address the performance of disadvantaged pupils in academy trusts

Academics who found that two-thirds of academy chains are below average for the performance of disadvantaged pupils have outlined seven recommendations to address the issue.

The recommendations follow a series of findings set out in today's Sutton Trust report 2018 Chain Effects, which examines the performance of 58 academy chains.

These findings include:

  • 38 of the chains had attainment below the national mainstream average for disadvantaged pupils, including eight that were “well below average”;
  • 12 of the chains had above average attainment for disadvantaged pupils, including three which were "substantially" above average: City of London, Diocese of London and the Harris Federation;
  • There has been “only limited change” in the overall rankings over five years, with the same small group of chains consistently performing highly in the rankings (with City of London, Harris, Ark and Outwood Grange “consistently high in the ranking”), and another small group at the bottom each year (with AET and Woodward Academies Trust “near the bottom of the table for five years”);
  • However, a small number of chains have shown consistent year-on-year improvement, “demonstrating that change is possible”. The report names Grace Foundation, Landau Forte Charitable Trust, the Diocese of Oxford, United Learning and the Priory Federation of Academies Trust as improvers;
  • Chains that are most successful with disadvantaged pupils also tend to be successful with their more affluent pupils, while less successful chain “tended to have poor results for both groups”;
  • The overall performance of disadvantaged pupils in sponsored academies got slightly worse between 2013 and 2016, but is now recovering. The report suggests this may reflect the time it took to adapt to the more academic national curriculum;
  • Sponsored academies have “performed very much better against the floor standard” since this measure moved from pupil attainment to pupil progress;
  • More academies are being rebrokered from one sponsor to another, and early results suggest that this approach “may be effective”.

Improving outcomes for disadvantaged children

The authors set out seven recommendations to improve the situation:

  1. “Regional schools commissioners must act more firmly with chains that do not deliver improvement over time”. The report says the government should recognise that there is limited capacity in the system, and allow RSCs to make use of successful local authorities;
  2. “Ofsted should be empowered to undertake formal inspections of academy chains”, something which would go beyond its current system of batched inspections of schools within a trust;
  3. “The government, along with the national and regional schools commissioners, should do more to create mechanisms to ensure the spread of good practice from the best academy chains to the rest”. This could include research on governance, structural arrangements, leadership and teacher practice;
  4. “Sponsors and schools should make full use of the body of evidence on what works to improve pupil outcomes”. The authors recommend the Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Foundation's Teaching and Learning Toolkit;
  5. “There should be continued efforts to increase teacher supply in academic subjects where there are currently shortages”;
  6. “Research should be commissioned to determine whether or not the increase in the proportion of pupils entering all EBacc subjects is resulting in some pupils failing (gaining less than a standard pass) in multiple subjects”;
  7. “The government should recognise that schools alone cannot solve the challenges of social inequality”. The report says schools are increasingly being expected to “compensate other gaps in social provision”, and this hampers efforts to narrow educational gaps.


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