Select Committee chairman says academies tension could drive up standards

Graham Stuart MP
Graham Stuart MP
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THE CHAIRMAN of the Education Select Committee says he believes the tension in the school system “created by the insurgency academy model” could help to raise standards across the board.

The Beverley and Holderness Conservative MP Graham Stuart MP also warned that it was difficult to assess the success of academies on overall school performance.

His committee produced a report earlier this year which said it was “currently impossible” to draw firm conclusions about whether academies were a positive force for change. It also found that there was no convincing evidence about the effect of academy status in primary schools on results.

However it noted that the overall performance of schools has improved during the academies programme.

And it found that the academies scheme has led to more competition, challenged council-run schools to improve and given local authorities an incentive to intervene quicker to deal with failing schools.

Mr Stuart claimed critics of academies had been wrong to highlight the report as evidence that the programme was not working .

He also said that comparing the GCSE results of academies and others was not a fair way to measure the policy.

Mr Stuart told the Yorkshire Post that the risk of local authorities losing schools to academy status after by them opting out as strong performing schools or by under performing ones being taken on by academy sponsors could be a catalyst for better results in non-academy schools.

When the education select committee report was published in January Mr Stuart said: “More evidence is urgently needed on the impact of academy status on primary schools and particular efforts made to encourage them to work in collaboration.”

He also raised the issue of academy chains - organisations which sponsor a number of academy schools

He said: “ Going forward, the Department for Education (DfE) should be less defensive and more open about its implementation of the academies programme, producing a range of clearer and deeper information about the performance of academy schools, chains and sponsors. It should also review the lessons of the rapid conversion of secondary schools to inform any future expansion.”

While some chains have clearly raised attainment, others achieve worse outcomes creating huge disparities within the academy sector and compared to other mainstream schools. To address this problem Ofsted should be given the power to inspect academy chains in the same way it does local authorities.

“Nearly half of all academies are not part of a chain. By being ‘stand-alone’, these schools risk becoming isolated from others and as such as both less likely to contribute to others and less supported if they begin to fail. In future Ofsted should require evidence of effective partnership with another institution before any school can be judged ‘outstanding.”

The Department for Education has said Ofsted can look at the work of academy chains when they inspect schools sponsored by them but that they should not give the chain an inspection score.