'No evidence' that academy conversion improves underperforming schools, study says

Sponsored academies under Labour had the biggest impact on attainment, report claims

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There is no evidence to suggest that academy conversion has a positive effect on schools rated less than outstanding by Ofsted, according to a major report. 

Schools judged good or requires improvement that converted to academy status under the Coalition government made no progress through becoming an academy, the study states.

The research will be a further blow to the government, which has made academisation its primary method of school improvement and will be leapt on by opponents to the policy that was dramatically expanded by the Conservatives.

It comes just a week after two other pieces of research from the thinktank the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and the Sutton Trust, which suggested academy conversion has had a mixed impact in terms of improving schools. The EPI study suggested that the type of school a child attends is not as important as the quality of the school. 

This latest report, produced by the London School of Economics on behalf of the EPI, shows that sponsored academies introduced in 2002 under the Labour government had the biggest impact on student attainment. The academics behind the research say students were achieving, on average, one GCSE grade higher across almost five subjects four years after opening.

Improvement 'not sustained'

But similar success was not seen among lower performing schools that converted to academy status after 2010 under the Conservative-led coalition government.

“For converter academies which were graded good (542), satisfactory/requires improvement (238) by Ofsted on conversion, there is no evidence of a positive attainment effect,” the report states. “School improvement appeared on average to improve in the year before conversion, but this improvement was then not sustained or built upon.”

There was a statistically significant rise in attainment among outstanding schools that converted to academy status during this period, however. On average, GCSE grades in these schools rose by around “one grade in 1.6 GCSE subjects, or 9.9 extra points”, the report says.

The research was launched to mark the EPI’s conference today looking at academies 15 years on. The thinktank said its studies would provide “the best understanding of the impact of the academies on attainment since the programme was established in 2002”.

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

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