Exclusive: 'Scant' evidence that forced primary academisation works, say heads

Urgent need for research into whether academisation can improve schools, according to new ASCL review of primary accountability

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A rethink is needed on forcing “inadequate” schools to become academies as the policy is putting off headteachers from taking on challenging primary schools, according to school leaders.  

The Association of School and College Leaders says that there is little evidence that the approach improves schools. It also says there are "many examples of concerning, unintended consequences" in its report on primary accountability, Sense and Accountability, published today.

The report calls for an overhaul of the system of judging primary schools to make the system better for children and fairer for children. Other proposals concern the focus of Ofsted inspectors, KS2 writing assessments and how Sats results are reported. 

And the union recommends that the government "urgently commissions research" into the success of compulsory academisation.

The report states: “We lack any real evidence for the benefits of academisation as a mechanism for school improvement. Stories are emerging on a worryingly frequent basis of MATs that are failing to adequately support, let alone improve, the schools for which they are responsible.

“Not only is there scant evidence for the benefits of the current approach to school improvement, there are also many examples of concerning, unintended consequences, such as the disincentive for school leaders to work in challenging schools.”

The call comes after a National Audit Office report last week found that the policy of academisation was running into challenges.

Since April 2016, all maintained schools judged "inadequate" are legally supposed to have become academies within nine months of receiving the Ofsted rating.

But the NAO report Converting Maintained Schools to Academies pointed out that of 166 school rated "inadequate" by Ofsted between April 2016 and March 2017, 63 per cent had not opened as academies nine months later.

The ASCL primary accountability review also recommends:

  • Scrapping the requirement for children to be labelled as having met or not met the expected standard in Sats.
  • That Ofsted ensures inspectors do not place too much focus on Sats results but take into account the wider curriculum
  • The government improves key stage 2 writing assessments or scraps them completely 
  • Primary school performance tables should be based on results over three years
  • The government should work with others to develop clear aims for primary education and consider how performance can be judged against those aims

ASCL’s stance on writing assessments puts it in opposition to the NAHT headteachers' union, which thinks that while writing assessments do need to be improved, they should stay – saying that without a focus on the wider aspects of writing, the test on spelling, punctuation and grammar would dominate the curriculum.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Thanks to our reforms and the hard work of teachers academic standards are rising, with 1.9 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools compared to 2010. Over 450,000 of these pupils are studying in sponsored academies that were typically previously underperforming.

"It is important to have an assessment system that continues to drive improvement while holding schools to account in a proportionate and effective way. The Association of School & College Leaders’ report acknowledges the improvements made to the writing assessments and just as the phonics screening check helps children who are learning to read, our recently introduced multiplication tables check will help teachers identify those pupils who require extra support to master their times tables.”

For more on the ASCL primary accountability review from the 2 March edition of Tes click here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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