Academies are 'damaging standards' in state schools

Institutions more likely to exclude troublemaker pupils
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The Independent Online

The Government's flagship academies can have a detrimental effect on standards in neighbouring schools, according to research published today.

Most academies have higher exclusion rates than the average state school. And while neighbouring schools are often forced to take in some of the excluded troublemakers, academies rarely, if ever, offer places to pupils excluded from other institutions, the study found.

The higher exclusion rates, coupled with the lower number of disadvantaged pupils that academies admit, was a "cause for concern", said Dr Lee Elliot Major, the research director at the Sutton Trust, the education charity which commissioned the research.

The report, written by researchers at the University of London's Institute for Education, concludes that academies are failing to carry out one of the first remits that the prime minister Tony Blair gave to them: to collaborate with neighbouring schools to drive up standards throughout the state sector.

It states that all three political parties may be wrong in backing the academies programme to the hilt.

"Academies are in danger of being regarded by politicians as a panacea for a broad range of educational problems," the report states.

"Given the varied performance of academies to date, conversion to an academy may not always be the best route for improvement."

The researchers claim that academies can "have damaging effects on neighbouring schools if academies exclude more pupils but do not take excluded pupils from elsewhere",

This year, the Children's Secretary, Ed Balls, insisted that all academies should form "behaviour partnerships" with their local schools, but one in 10 has failed to do so.

The percentage of academy pupils eligible to receive free school meals has dropped from 45.3 per cent in 2003 to 29 per cent. Dr Elliot Major said: "This is something that needs to be watched closely."

Ministers say the number of pupils eligible for free school meals has fallen because academies are pulling families that had opted to send children to private schools back into the state sector. They also argue that the high exclusion rates may have been necessary at first to send a message to pupils that discipline would be firm. Dr Elliot Major said: "At first sight the data is disturbing in that they seem to support the view that these schools have exploited their freedom to recruit affluent and more biddable pupils."

The report notes that while academies are improving GCSE results at a faster rate than average, the first three academies to be opened (in 2002) have failed to reach the government benchmark for all schools of 30 per cent of pupils obtaining five A* to C-grade GCSE passes, including in maths and English. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said that any school failing to meet this target could face closure or, ironically, replacement by an academy.

Academies, which are sponsored by a range of backers from companies to faith groups, universities and independent schools, were set up to replace failing inner-city state schools. So far, 130 have been opened. The Government hopes that figure will reach 400.