“Focus on teaching quality not school structures” according to academies expert and adviser to MPs

There is no clear evidence to show that “academies raise standards overall”, says a report from the Education Select Committee into England’s school system. The Department of Education must become more open about how academies are run, and give Ofsted full powers to inspect academy chains – says a new report by MPs.

Professor Becky Francis, who advised the committee, and is Professor of Education and Social Justice, King’s College London:

“As noted in the Select Committee report, the evidence on whether or not academies have had more success in raising attainment than other equivalent schools is mixed, and hard to pin down.

Assessment is complicated by the proliferation of different types of academies, and their very different circumstances when they became academies.

For example, sponsor academies were usually low-attaining schools, often located in areas of disadvantage; for converter academies, it’s the opposite.

This makes analysing both attainment and improvement across academies quite difficult: low achieving schools have more room for improvement; and likewise successful schools would be expected to have high levels of attainment.

It is really too early to judge the impact of academisation on converter academies.

For sponsor academies, including those instigated prior to 2010, the evidence is mixed. Overall, evidence suggests a slight improvement against similar local authority schools for those open the longest; although there has been a particular reliance on equivalent qualifications in sponsor academies.

Looking at the picture more closely, we see both examples of striking success, but also of significant failure – this was also the finding of research on the success or otherwise of academy chains.

These findings highlight the need for greater rigour and transparency in the system, especially, closer checks on those sponsors coming into the system, and firmer action with those that do not succeed in securing improvement.

But also, they support the impetus for a renewed focus on the quality of teaching practice in all schools, in contrast to the preoccupation with structures in our education system.”

Note to journalists: The research into academy chains (7th paragraph) was carried out by Becky Francis, Merryn Hutchings and Rob De Vries.

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