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Best academy chains outperform mainstream average for poorer pupils, but weakest ones fall behind – Sutton Trust research


Author: Sutton Trust

July 24, 2014


Sutton Trust reseach shows that the best academy chains outperform other state-funded schools, while the weakest chains trail their mainstream counterparts in raising standards for their poorest pupils.


The research, by Professor Merryn Hutchings, Professor Becky Francis and Dr Robert de Vries,  compares the performance of disadvantaged students – those entitled to the pupil premium – in sponsored academies in 31 chains from 2011-2013.


The report, Chain Effects, includes an index comparing the chains’ 2013 performance for disadvantaged pupils on the most important attainment measures; including the percentage achieving five A*-C grade GCSEs or equivalent (including English and Maths), the percentage making expected progress in English and Maths, performance in the English Baccalaureate, and overall performance on their best 8 GCSEs.

The report shows that in nine of the 31 chains disadvantaged students in sponsored academies outperformed the average for those in mainstream schools in 2013. Of these, the best performers based on the proportion of disadvantaged pupils gaining five good GCSEs or equivalent are:


  • Barnfield Education Partnership – a Luton-based chain linked to a further education college

  • The Harris Federation – which now has 27 academies and free schools mainly in South London

  • The City of London Corporation – with three academies around the capital

  • Mercers’ Company – a  City-based livery company which has three academies, two of which are also linked to the successful Thomas Telford City Technology College in the West Midlands

  • ARK Schools – a chain that now has 27 academies in London, the South East, and Birmingham.


In sponsored academies in each of these chains the proportion of disadvantaged students achieving five good GCSEs is at least 15 percentage points higher than the average for disadvantaged students in mainstream schools. These are the same chains that stand out as the best performers across the suite of measures compiled in the index.


The report also shows that, across the board, disadvantaged students in 18 of the 31 chains are improving faster than the national average.  On the core five good GCSEs measure, five chains improved significantly more than the national average between 2011 and 2013. These were Barnfield, The City of London Corporation, the David Ross Education Trust, the Diocese of Salisbury, and Leigh Academies Trust.


In all of these chains, the improvement in the proportion of disadvantaged students achieving five good grades in 2013 was at least 18 percentage points – 4.5 times the average rate in all mainstream schools.



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