Media Briefings

‘FIRST-WAVE’ ACADEMY SCHOOLS BOOSTED PUPIL PERFORMANCE

  • Published Date: March 2015

Giving struggling schools more freedom and stronger leadership leads to large improvements in pupil performance. What’s more, the greater the autonomy gained, the more pronounced the positive effects on test scores.

These are the findings of a study by Andrew Eyles and Stephen Machin of the first wave of academy schools established in England in 2009-11, which achieved better test scores for their pupils than comparable schools under state control. Their research, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2015 annual conference, shows that:

• A pupil attending an academy school for four years could expect, on average, test scores 0.2 standard deviations higher than a similar pupil at a school under local authority control. This is roughly equivalent to a pupil going from the 50th percentile of the test score distribution to the 57th.

• The results are stronger for schools converting from community school status, as they gain relatively more freedom than other types of school. Pupils attending community converters for four years achieve, on average, test scores 0.4 standard deviations higher than pupils attending community schools. This is equivalent to a pupil going from the 50th percentile of distribution to the 65th.

• Academy conversion leads to a ‘higher quality’ intake of year 7 pupils. Academy schools attract pupils with key stage 2 scores 0.15 standard deviations higher, on average, 6 years after conversion.

• Schools converting to academies are around 60% more likely to change head teacher than other schools.

The academy school programme was introduced by the Labour government and replaces existing schools with a new type of state school run outside of local authority control and managed by a private team of independent co-sponsors. The sponsors delegate management of the school to a largely self-appointed board of governors who have responsibility for employing all academy staff, agreeing levels of pay, deciding on the policies for staffing structure, career development, discipline and performance management.

The study compares test results in schools that became academies in 2009-2011 with earlier test results of similar schools that would later become academies themselves. This allows the researchers to isolate the effect of the academy school status as much as possible, while controlling for common characteristics of first-wave academies such as their location in the inner city.

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This research looks at the impact of the Labour government’s academies programme on pupil achievement. The programme replaced existing schools with a new type of state school run outside of local authority control and managed by a private team of independent co-sponsors. The sponsors delegated management of the school to a largely self-appointed board of governors who had responsibility for employing all academy staff, agreeing levels of pay, deciding on the policies for staffing structure, career development, discipline and performance management.

The study finds that giving greater autonomy to secondary schools leads to large gains in test scores for pupils attending those schools. To be precise, a pupil who attends an academy school for four years can expect, on average, test scores 0.2 standard deviations higher than an otherwise similar pupil at a school under local authority control. This is roughly equivalent to going from the 50th percentile of the test score distribution to the 57th.

The results are stronger for schools that convert from community school status. These have the least amount of autonomy pre-conversion and thus gain relatively more freedom than other school types. The performance gains for these schools are twice the average with pupils attending community converters for four years achieving, on average, test scores 0.4 standard deviations higher than similar pupils attending community schools. This effect is equivalent to going from the 50th percentile of the test score distribution to the 65th.

These are not the only improvements: of the schools that convert, 41% improve their Ofsted grade.

The research also finds that academy conversion leads to a ‘higher quality’ intake of year 7 pupils, as measured by key stage 2 performance, with academy schools attracting pupils with key stage 2 scores 0.15 standard deviations higher, on average, six years post-conversion.

There are two hurdles to estimating the impact of academy schools on test scores:

• First, schools that gained academy status during the period 2009-11 are fundamentally different from the average secondary school in that they are typically inner city, poorly performing schools. A naïve comparison of academy pupil outcomes with average, non-academy school, outcomes would lead to the erroneous conclusion that academy status is bad for pupil performance.

• Second, schools that convert to academy schools typically start to attract better pupils. Even comparing outcomes for pupils attending academies with pupils attending similar schools in terms of pre-conversion characteristics may fail to account for these compositional changes.

The study avoids these problems in two ways. The researchers compare outcomes for those attending an academy school in the 2002-2009 period with those who attend ‘control’ schools – schools that become sponsored academies later (in the 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 school years). To avoid conflating the causal effect of academy status on test scores with compositional changes, attention is restricted to pupils already enrolled in an academy school in the year prior to conversion.

Interest also lies in the mechanisms causing the effects. The Department for Education’s (2014) survey of academy schools sheds light on the question of ‘Do Academies Make Use of Their Autonomy? This survey collected information on a wide array of changes that may have occurred following academy conversion. The most prominent changes are changes in school leadership, procurement of services that were previously provided by the local authority and curriculum changes.

The study looks at the extent to which academy conversion causes a change in leadership by comparing the probability that a school changes head teacher in the year of conversion relative to a control school in the same year. It finds that schools converting to academies are around 60% more likely to change head teacher than control schools.

To conclude, in this setting, namely sponsored academies opened under the Labour government, it appears that giving struggling schools more freedom and stronger leadership leads to large improvements in pupil performance. The greater the autonomy gained the more pronounced these effects.

ENDS


‘The Introduction of Academy Schools to England’s Education’ by Andrew Eyles and Stephen Machin

Contact:
Andrew Eyles
Tel: 020 7955 6640
Mobile 07966069755
Email: a.eyles@lse.ac.uk