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'Let councils take schools from struggling MATs'

Education Policy Institute report finds little difference between performance of council-run schools and academies

David Laws

Education Policy Institute report finds little difference between performance of council-run schools and academies

Strongly performing local councils should to be able to take on schools in struggling academy trusts, according to the Education Policy Institute (EPI).

The government also needs to be able to identify academy chains that are at risk of significant failure and ensure sponsors exist to take on their schools, according to a new report.

The recommendations come in a report, published today, comparing the performance of groups of schools in both academy trusts and local authorities.

It finds “little difference in the performance of schools in academy chains and local authorities".

The report adds: “The type of school – academy or local authority – is therefore less important than being in a high-performing school group.

“Indeed, we find that both academy chains and local authorities feature at the very top of our performance tables, and at the very bottom.”

The report notes that the government had planned to convert all schools to academies in 2015 but that since 2016 academisation has been much less prominent.

The EPI says its analysis suggests that ministers need to focus on poorly performing schools in both academy trusts and local authorities.

The EPI has measured the performance of groups of schools based on pupil improvement. It said the contextual improvement measure it has used “takes into account characteristics such as pupil prior attainment and levels of disadvantage, as well as the historic performance of a school”.

This allows for a clear measure of performance, undistorted by schools’ differing pupil intakes.

'Tackle the worst school groups'

Using this the measure, EPI finds that local authorities make up 15 of the top 20 school groups at key stage 2. It says this is “slightly higher” than would be expected, taking into account the total number of local authorities and academy chains.

The highest performing local authorities are largely dominated by London and include Kensington and Chelsea, Greenwich and Hammersmith and Fulham. Redcar and Cleveland is the highest performing local authority outside of London.

The Harris Federation is the only academy chain in the top 10. 

Academy chains feature heavily in the top 20 performing school groups at GCSE, making up 14 out of the top 20 performers.

The highest-performing academy chain is the Rodillian Multi-Academy Trust. The highest performing large trusts are Outwood Grange and the Harris Federation.

The highest performing local authorities include Brent, Hackney and Hull. Of the six local authorities that are in the top 20, five are from London.

The lowest performing academy chains at key stage 4 include the Bright Tribe Trust, the Hart Schools Trust and the Education Fellowship Trust.

David Laws, the EPI’s executive chairman and a former schools minister, said: “For many years, supporters of both academy schools and local authority-run schools have argued about the relative merits of both models for school improvement.

“This new EPI report is clear; there are both great academy chains and badly performing chains, and there are great local authority school groups and very weak ones. Neither full academisation nor a wholesale return to the old local authority model is likely to significantly improve attainment in English schools.

“Instead, the government needs to consider how it can act more swiftly and effectively to tackle the worst performing school groups, whether these are academy chains or local authorities. If we can effectively support and challenge low performing groups, we may be able to improve results for large numbers of pupils. But too many local authorities and academy chains can languish at the bottom of performance tables for too long before action is taken.”

Roy Perry, vice chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “What is more important to councils than the type of school is that every child gets the education they deserve and that will serve them best.

“This is why government needs to allow councils to be the effective education improvement partners they can be, ready and able to support schools of all types. There are so many ways councils can help schools, and they are the democratic voice of a local community with respect to education."

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