Forcing underperforming schools to become academies is “immoral”, because of a lack of evidence about the policy’s success, according to a panel of senior education figures.
Currently, non-academies that are rated "inadequate" by Ofsted are legally required to convert to academy status.
But the policy has come under fire by an expert panel convened by the Association of School and College Leaders to review primary accountability.
Speaking today at the annual Academies Show in Birmingham, Julie McCulloch, the ASCL's interim director of policy, gave the first public indication of the group's thinking.
The group includes Robert Coe, director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University; Greg Watson, chief executive of GL Assessment; Lee Owston, Ofsted’s specialist advisor for early education and Dame Alison Peacock, chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching.
Ms McCulloch told conference delegates that the group thought “the consequences of falling short of the desired outcomes should be fair, proportionate, transparent, constructive and aligned with the best current evidence of what is most likely to lead to improvements”.
Calling for more research about the effect of academies, she added: “It is immoral to perpetuate an approach to school improvement for which there is so little evidence.”
Speaking afterwards to Tes, Ms McCulloch said: “We don’t yet, as a system, have a really clear understanding of which multi-academy trusts (MATs) are being really successful in turning around schools and why. What is it that they are doing that really makes a difference?
“I think we need more research done on that if we are to say that under-performance ends up with a school being required to join or MAT.
“Do you know that that is what a school needs, and if you don’t, why is that an automatic consequence of under-performance?”
Ms McCulloch said the group’s draft recommendations focus on:
- Finding ways to hold schools to account for a broader range of measures.
- Improving the accuracy of the current performance measures.
- Promoting ethical leadership and effective curriculum design.
- Using performance data in a proportionate way.
- Employing the most effective responses to underperformance.
- Ensuring we continue to build our collective understanding of how accountability works.
The group hopes to publish its findings in the new year.