Children in schools that have converted into academies do not perform significantly better than pupils in similar schools that choose to remain under local authority control, research suggests.
A study carried out for the Local Government Association (LGA) compared the attainment of pupils at academy schools with those at maintained schools which had similar characteristics. It found that progress made by students in sponsored and “converter” academies was no greater than that of children at maintained schools. The only statistically significant difference in favour of sponsored academies was in the percentage of pupils who achieved five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C.
The research, published on 1 July, coincides with a warning by the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, that secondary schools which repeatedly fail to ensure that 60 per of pupils gain five good GCSEs face being forcibly turned into academies.
However, the LGA said its findings suggested that ministers should allow high-performing maintained schools to sponsor struggling schools without having to become academies themselves.
It pointed out that about 80 per cent of council-run schools in England were currently rated as “good” or “outstanding” by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), and that the Government should allow them to play “a direct part in raising education standards and improving life chances, including taking on the running of failing academies”.
The LGA study, carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research, found no evidence of short-term benefits in improved performance that could be associated with a school’s conversion to an academy. There was also very little evidence that pupils eligible for free school meals, or with low prior ability, made more progress in academies than they would have done in similar, maintained schools.
However, there was some evidence to show that the performance of academies that had been open longer had improved faster than that of schools in the maintained sector. There was also a suggestion that the attainment gap between pupils eligible for free meals and those that were not was slightly narrower in converter academies than in similar maintained schools.
Councillor David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said he hoped that the Government would stop seeing council involvement in the running of schools as a barrier to improved performance.
“Schools spend billions of pounds of public money yet, at present, there is no rigorous accountability for academies that are ‘coasting’, no clear understanding of what happens when one falls into this category and no risk assessment in place for those rated as good or above,” he said.
“For parents, who are far more concerned with the quality of their child’s education in the classroom than the legal status of the school, it is the council that they still turn to for advice and support. However, their current powers to intervene are strictly limited.
“[The Government] should allow councils and the best maintained schools to share expertise and provide support to school leadership teams to ensure standards rapidly improve.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said academies were the key to providing an “excellent education”. “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,” he added.
“Established sponsored academies have GCSE results well above those of their predecessor schools, even under new and tougher measures.”