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Sponsored academies not succeeding with bright, disadvantaged pupils

30 June 2017

Disadvantaged pupils who have fallen behind at primary school make more progress by GCSE in sponsored academies in chains than in other types of school, according to new research by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and the Sutton Trust. However, high attainers who are in the top 20% at the end of primary school made less progress in these academies.

The research, by Professor Becky Francis, Director of the IOE, and Professor Merryn Hutchings from the Sutton Trust, analysed the performance of disadvantaged students - those entitled to the pupil premium - in 48 academy chains from 2014-2016.

It found that, on average, academy chains do better for their disadvantaged pupils with low prior attainment. In more than half (26) of the chains, disadvantaged pupils with lower grades at the end of primary school made more progress than in the state schools. However, there were only eight chains where poorer pupils with top grades at primary school made more progress than the national average.

The report highlights how outcomes for disadvantaged pupils vary massively across academy chains. Poorer pupils in 10 out of 48 chains performed above the national average on key measures of 2016 attainment for disadvantaged pupils, including four chains - City of London, Diocese of London, Harris and Outwood Grange - which were significantly above the average. However, in 29 of the 48 chains analysed, disadvantaged pupils performed below the national average for all state schools.

Speaking of the report, Professor Francis said:

"It is heartening to find that a majority of academy chains are effectively supporting their pupils with low prior attainment; something that schools in England have often struggled to achieve. However, they need to extend this to ensure they are supporting the progress of all their disadvantaged pupils. As well as the importance of this for life chances and social mobility, this will be necessary to drive up attainment in sponsored academy chains, which is still problematic for many.

"Indeed, the finding that a fifth of the chains in our sample are performing well below average and not improving is a cause for strong concern. These chains need support to improve. We need urgently to find ways to learn from the successful chains, to ensure that the sponsor academies programme delivers its promise for young people."

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, added:

"As our research shows, more than half of academy chains are doing a great job for their disadvantaged pupils. However, the problem is there are only eight chains out of 48 where poorer pupils who are in the top 20% at the end of primary school make more progress than those in state schools. So many high attaining pupils are failing to fulfil their early academic potential in these schools."

The report urges the Government, and the National and Regional Schools Commissioners, to do more to create mechanisms that spread good practice from the best academy chains to the rest. Suggestions include creating a taskforce to act as mentors to those sponsors struggling to realise their potential, and commissioning robust research that analyses the factors behind a chain's success in providing transformational outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

Media contact

James Russell
Tel: +44 20 3108 8516
Email: james.russell@ucl.ac.uk

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