The Sutton Trust has published a new report exploring the impact of academy chains on outcomes for low-income pupils.
The authors focused their research on academy chains that had at least three academies in 2013, and two sponsored secondary academies for the whole period from September 2010 to July 2013. Although there are now almost 4,000 academies and 192 chains (according to the June 2014 DfE academies list), only 31 chains met the inclusion criteria.
The authors considered the outcomes for disadvantaged pupils (those who were ever eligible for Free School Meals between Year 6 and Year 11, and looked-after children) and found wide variation. When analysed against a range of Government indicators on attainment, a majority of the chains still underperform the mainstream average on attainment for their disadvantaged pupils. They also found that while sponsored academies in chains achieve higher results than all mainstream schools on some measures, this reflected a greater use of equivalent qualifications.
However, the report also found that the improvement in disadvantaged pupils achieving five A*-C GCSEs (including maths and English) in 16 sponsored academies exceeded the figure for all mainstream schools, and that five chains are achieving high attainment for disadvantaged pupils (and for pupils of all types) across a whole range of measures. The key factors for success in the more successful chains were identified as a measured approach to expansion, and the importance of building up strong experience of strategies for improving schools.
Source: Chain Effects: The Impact of Academy Chains on Low Income Students (2014), The Sutton Trust.