Today sees the publication of the Sutton Trust’s report, Chain Effects 2018: the impact of academy chains on low-income pupils. The report may well be used to attempt to undermine state education in England with another attack on multi-academy trusts (MATs).
But in fact, looking at it through a different lens, it may be doing something else. The findings in the report show that we’re beginning to see the evidence that MATs can have a transformational effect on life chances.
Here are eight facts from the report that support this notion:
1. Fifteen trusts in the sample analysed in the report achieved truly impressive outcomes for disadvantaged pupils on attainment and progress measures. Interestingly, those trusts that are successful for disadvantaged pupils also tend to be successful for all pupils.
2. The data in the report shows it may take longer than three years to bring about improvement in an underperforming school. In fact, the report states that it may take time for a new academy trust to develop effective strategies for school improvement. The authors encourage the sharing of knowledge and argue that where knowledge-sharing takes place, improvement in results follows.
3. The report acknowledges that most trusts face a greater level of challenge in terms of their intake than the mainstream state school average, and some a very much greater level. MATs actually have higher-than-average numbers of disadvantaged pupils – especially low-prior-attaining pupils. The authors conclude that this suggests that trusts have largely retained their original focus on pupils that need additional help and resources, reflecting the original mission of the academies programme.
4. Sponsored academies perform very much better against the floor standard and are beginning to improve in the national figures. For the past two years, the sponsored academies included in the analysis have performed very much better against the floor standard.
5. The overall pattern of performance is recovering. The report demonstrates that the five-year analysis shows that, in comparison with the national pattern, the overall performance of disadvantaged pupils in sponsored academies in the analysis worsened slightly between 2013 and 2016, but is now recovering. The authors suggest that this may be because the move to a more academic curriculum has been a major shift in focus for sponsored academies.
6. The early results show rebrokering may be effective. The report states that over the past year, the rebrokering of academies has become a more standard practice, and the early results show that this may be effective.
7. There is evidence from the National Foundation for Educational Research that the structure of MATs can enable them to better retain teachers and to deploy them into disadvantaged schools that need them.
8. Finally, we all need to do more to explore the methods of the successful trusts and to distil learning to support other trusts. I’d like to suggest that this is a particular challenge for the research community, and I would urge funding bodies and research organisations to prioritise research into more established, successful trusts.
The sector is relatively young and still emergent. It is arguable that the longer-standing and successful academy trusts demonstrate what is possible in terms of achieving a transformational effect on standards overall – and in particular for the most disadvantaged.
Let us dwell not on unhelpful accusations and soundbites. To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, let us dwell in possibility.
Leora Cruddas is chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts. She tweets @LeoraCruddas