April 2017


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  • Research insights
    Amanda Taylor, Deputy Head of the Centre for Information and Knowledge at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), highlights the latest research and evidence, government statistics and guidance on multi-academy trusts (MATs). More
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Amanda Taylor, Deputy Head of the Centre for Information and Knowledge at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), highlights the latest research and evidence, government statistics and guidance on multi-academy trusts (MATs).

Research insights

MATs are playing a growing role in England’s education system. This is in line with the government’s Manifesto commitment on academisation. Last year, the Education Select Committee launched an inquiry into MATs (bit.ly/2j5oVj3) to explore their role, governance and how they should be held to account. The committee released a report on its findings as Leader was going to print – see the report online at bit.ly/2mX0evW In this article, we have rounded up other available research evidence.

Title: A Tale of Eight Regions. Part 1: A snap shot of the evolving school system across the regional schools commissioner areas (NFER)
Date: July 2016
URL: bit.ly/2jSMDDH

NFER explored England’s evolving school landscape, producing individual region profiles for each of the eight regional school commissioner (RSC) areas. Introduced in 2014 to oversee academies, RSCs’ expanded responsibilities now include identifying and building sponsor capacity, predominantly from within existing single and multi-academy trusts.

What you need to know:

  • A total of 29% of all state schools in England are academies, an increase of 4% since September 2015.
  • The proportion of academies continues to vary by phase and RSC region; two-thirds of secondary schools are academies compared to one-in-five primary schools.
  • Growth in the proportion of schools becoming academies has been steadily falling across both phases in recent years, but the decline in growth in the secondary sector has been declining steeper. Overall growth in primary academisation exceeded secondary growth for the first time in 2016.
  • The difference in the extent of academisation within regions is greater than differences between regions.
  • The number of schools in single and multi-academy trusts by region also varies; this may make it more difficult for some RSCs to find sufficient sponsors in the future.

Title: Chain Effects 2016: The impact of academy chains on low-income students (The Sutt on Trust)
Date: July 2016
URL: bit.ly/2iVeROs

For a third year, The Sutton Trust analysed school performance data (2015) to review how well disadvantaged pupils are achieving in sponsored academies in academy chains. The analysis included those academy chains with at least three academies in 2015 and at least two sponsored secondary academies for a three-year period from September 2012.

What you need to know:

  • The sponsored academies in the analysis (the ‘analysis group’) had lower inspection grades compared to all other secondary schools and academies (referred to in the report as ‘mainstream schools’) and four in ten were not yet judged as ‘Good’.
  • The academies in the analysis group were twice as likely as ‘mainstream schools’ to be below the floor standard and twice as likely to be judged ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted.
  • There continued to be very significant variation in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, both between and within chains.
  • Chains that were most successful with disadvantaged pupils also tended to be successful with their more affluent pupils, while less successful chains tended to have poor results for both groups.
  • Over the three years of analysis, there has been relatively little change in the ranking of individual chains; a handful of chains continue to achieve impressive outcomes for their disadvantaged students while the results in a larger group of low-performing chains are not improving.

Title: Academy Chains Unlocked
Date: September 2016
URL: bit.ly/2jIQBfI

This report by Reform sets out how academy chains in England operate based on a survey and follow-up interviews with chief executives. A total of 66 respondents responsible for a total of about 700 academies responded to the survey and six took part in interviews.

What you need to know:

  • Despite the growth in academy chains, just under half of all academies are standalone schools.
  • The majority of chains comprise two to five schools; the largest chain has 69 academies. Most chains, regardless of current size, want to expand, including through taking over low-performing schools. Finance and geographical location remain barriers to this, and there is particular reluctance to take over smaller schools. More than one-third of respondents have at some point declined to take on a new school when formally requested to do so, for example by an RSC. The most common reason cited was the location of the school.
  • An overwhelming majority of respondents believed that economies of scale are possible in academy chains, but the majority did not think their chain had grown large enough to begin reducing average costs across the chain. Most respondents suggested that a chain would need from 8 to 20 academies and from 2,500 to 7,500 pupils to do so.
  • The survey results indicated a varied picture of chain operations ranging from highly centralised models to those that devolved greater responsibility to individual schools. Staff terms and conditions, procurement and dealing with grievances were found to be the most centralised services within chains. Printing/Photocopying and catering were least centralised.

Forthcoming research

Look out for forthcoming NFER research that explores the future challenges RSCs face in supporting schools in their areas and Nuffield Foundation funded research by the University College London (UCL) Institute of Education (IOE) and NFER on the self-improving, school-led system.

Keeping up to date

Sign up to NFER’s free current-awareness emails (bit.ly/2d5w43F):

  • ‘On the Web’ – a bimonthly digest listing all major education reports
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Further reading

Title Multi-academy Trust Performance Measures: 2014 to 2015
Publisher Department for Education
Date July 2016
URL bit.ly/2jp6HdE Title Multi-academy Trusts: Good practice guidance and expectations for growth
Publisher Department for Education
Date November 2016
URL bit.ly/2kjWdMK Title Growing Multi-academy Trusts in the East of England and North East London: Suggestions for ambitious trusts
Publisher Cambridge Education
Date Summer 2016
URL bit.ly/2kjQ5YS Title HMCI’s Monthly Commentary: October 2016 – comments on high performing multi-academy trusts and what they have in common
Publisher Ofsted and Sir Michael Wilshaw
Date October 2016
URL bit.ly/2kjUoDk

Amanda Taylor is Deputy Head of the Centre for Information and Knowledge at NFER