Sponsored academies not succeeding with disadvantaged pupils who did well at primary school

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Disadvantaged pupils who have fallen behind at primary schools make more progress by GCSE in sponsored academies in chains than in other types of school, according to analysis published by the Sutton Trust. However those high attainers who are in the top 20 per cent at the end of primary school make less progress in these academies.

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

The researchers found that, on average, academy chains do better for their disadvantaged pupils with low prior attainment. They identified 26 chains out of 48, more than half, where disadvantaged pupils with lower grades at the end of primary schools made more progress than in state schools generally. But there were only eight chains where poorer pupils with top grades at primary schools made more progress than the national average.

To support pupils with high attainment in academies, the Sutton Trust is calling for the Government to create a fund to support successful initiatives for high attainers from disadvantaged backgrounds, and to focus on supporting disadvantaged pupils of all attainment levels through the pupil premium.

Chain Effects 2017 includes an index comparing the chains’ 2016 performance for disadvantaged pupils on the most important attainment measures, including Progress 8, Attainment 8 and the percentage achieving A*-C grades in English and Maths. This is the first year that the analysis uses these new headline accountability measures.

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.

While attainment for disadvantaged pupils was often poor in the chains analysed, over half were above the national average for improvement between 2014 and 2016. The chain that has made the most substantial improvement this year is Grace Academy Trust, based in the West Midlands. In Sutton Trust’s first two reports this chain’s attainment was well below average, and it describes its improvement as encouraging.

Four chains — Outwood Grange, Landau Forte, United Learning and Diocese of London — have had above average attainment and above average improvement in two successive years. Of concern, the Trust says, are the 10 chains where attainment and improvement were below the national average.

The report notes that over the last year the Government has been more willing to move underperforming academies from their chains and Regional Schools Commissioners have been actively re-brokering academies.

However, to make sure that the academies programme realises its goal of improving outcomes for disadvantaged children, it 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.

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

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 per cent 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 Sutton Trust has long been advocating that high attaining students in academies should have the support and guidance they need to thrive. The Government should create a fund to enable these students to succeed.

Professor Becky Francis, Director of the UCL-Institute of Education, 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.

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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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