There is no significant link between academy status and improvements in a school’s overall GCSE results, research by the National Foundation for Educational Research has found.
The analysis, which comes as the government embarks on a fresh drive to turn “coasting” schools into academies, found the differences in overall GCSE performance between converter or sponsored academies and similar maintained schools were “not statistically significant”.
It found there was “very little evidence” of pupils eligible for free school meals, or those with high or low prior ability, making greater progress at both types of academies than in similar maintained schools.
However, the report did find that the proportion of students achieving five GCSEs at grade A*-C, including English and mathematics, was 2.9 percentage points higher in sponsored academies than in similar maintained schools. It said that this difference was “statistically significant”.
It also found “tentative evidence of an upward trend in the performance of sponsored academies compared to similar maintained schools the longer they are open”.
However the report, commissioned by the Local Government Association, warned that a “competing explanation” for this was that academies set up in 2009-10 received more extra funding than those set up more recently. This “might have influenced the extent of school improvement measures that were possible to deliver”.
It found evidence that the attainment gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and those that are not eligible was “slightly narrower in converter academies than in similar maintained schools”. This “might show an increased focus on disadvantaged pupils being taken by converter academies,” it said.
Education secretary Nicky Morgan announced yesterday that a school would be defined as “coasting” if, among other factors, fewer than 60 per cent of its children achieved five A*-C GCSEs in 2014 and 2015.
Schools identified as coasting will be converted into academies unless they are deemed to have credible plans to improve.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the ASCL heads’ union, told TES that the report showed that structural change in itself was “not an automatic key to raising standards”.
“The key is an appropriate curriculum, excellent teaching and excellent leadership,” he said. “That can happen in all kinds of schools.”
The NFER’s report was based on 2014 GCSE performance at sponsored and converter academies that had been open between two and four years, and a group of maintained schools that had similar characteristics at the time the schools became academies.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “At the heart of our commitment to delivering real social justice is our belief that every pupil deserves an excellent education. Academies are key to this, promoting new ideas and offering greater choice, and latest figures show they are driving up standards at primary and secondary level, transforming the education of millions of pupils across the country.
“The Academies Annual Report for the 2013/14 academic year provides clear and credible evidence of the positive impact academies are having on young people’s life chances - established sponsored academies have GCSE results well above those of their predecessor schools, even under new and tougher measures."