IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Two-thirds of academy chains are performing below average for disadvantaged pupils

20 December 2018

Two-thirds of academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils, according to research by UCL Institute of Education (IOE).

Secondary pupil in classroom

The Sutton Trust report, authored by IOE Director Professor Becky Francis and Professor Merryn Hutchings, analysed the performance of disadvantaged students – those entitled to the pupil premium – in 2017, and over the five years of the Chain Effects series. 

Poorer pupils in 12 out of 58 chains analysed performed above the national average on key measures of 2017 attainment for disadvantaged pupils. However, in 38 of the 58 chains analysed, disadvantaged pupils performed below the national average for all state schools.  

Sponsor-led academies have been promoted by successive governments as a way to improve the educational achievement of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As the academies programme has developed, policymakers have increasingly seen multi-academy trusts (MATs) as the best way of working to improve the performance of previously struggling schools and the educational outcomes of their often disadvantaged pupils.

However, the five-year analysis highlights inconsistency between chains and finds there is the same small group of chains that consistently outperform the national average for disadvantaged pupils, while another small group of chains remain at the bottom of the table each year.

The report highlights that long-standing academy chains tend to show better exam results, with newer chains frequently performing poorly, indicating that it takes time for a new trust to establish effective practices in the schools it takes over.

The report recommends that the government allows Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) to draw on all successful providers with good track records, including local authorities, and do more to create mechanisms that spread good practice from the best academy chains to the rest. 

Professor Becky Francis, Director of the IOE, said: 

"Our five year analysis of sponsor academies' provision for disadvantaged pupils shows that while a few chains are demonstrating transformational results for these pupils, more are struggling. We continue to find it perplexing that the Government has done so little to explore the methods of these successful chains and to distil learning to support others. We continue to call for this, and to call for the Government to capitalise on the successes of a range of schooling organisations, whether MATs or Local Authorities, in order to do the best we can for all pupils."

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said: 

“Two-thirds of academy chains perform below the national average for all state schools on key measures of attainment for disadvantaged young people.  Improving their educational achievement was the original reason why academies were set up.  In this regard they have not succeeded.

“We at the Sutton Trust are recommending the sharing of good practice of the best academy chains with the rest. More generally schools should make increased use of the body of what works evidence.  Also, there should be strenuous efforts in struggling schools to attract and retain good teachers and those teachers in subjects where there are shortages.”

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Rowan Walker, UCL Media Relations 
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