20-04-2021

The NEU case against academisation

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Academisation is driving down staff pay, terms and conditions, alienating communities and has caused the fragmentation of the education system. Despite this, English schools are still being put under pressure to become academies and to join multi-academy trusts (MATs).

Myth: joining a MAT improves academic attainment

2018 report by researchers at the University College London (UCL) Institute of Education found there was no positive impact on the attainment and progress scores of pupils in MATs when compared to equivalent non-MAT schools. Pupils in larger MATs (those with 16-plus schools) did worse, particularly in secondary schools.

An Education Policy Institute (EPI) report published in 2018 compared school performance and pupil improvement at every trust and local authority (LA) in England at both key stages 2 and 4. It revealed that academy chains are “disproportionately represented” among the worst performing groups of primary schools, with 12 making it into the bottom 20.

A separate EPI report from 2017 found that “academies do not provide an automatic solution to school improvement” and that “there is significant variation in performance at both different types of academies and multi-academy trusts”. It concluded that “there is no real change to the primary school test scores of incoming pupils once the schools become converter academies”.

Myth: academisation boosts Ofsted grades

Schools that remain within the LA are more likely to retain a Good or Outstanding rating from Ofsted than those that become academies.

report commissioned by the Local Government Association found that 90 per cent of schools that stayed with their council (9,400) kept their Good or Outstanding grades, compared with 81 per cent (2,275) that became academies. It also found good schools that converted to academies were more likely to lose their strong Ofsted grade.

Myth: academy conversion benefits disadvantaged pupils

Research by the Sutton Trust has found that two thirds of academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils. It also concluded that too many chain sponsors, despite several years in charge of their schools, continued to struggle to improve the outcomes of their most disadvantaged students.

A survey of almost 700 head teachers by UCL Institute of Education (IOE) in 2018 found that two thirds believed that inequalities between schools are becoming wider as a result of current government policy, including the academy programme.

Fact: joining a MAT is irreversible and offers no protection from a future transfer to another MAT

A school cannot decide to leave a MAT voluntarily, either to re-join the LA or join another MAT. But if the MAT trust collapses, walks away or is forced to give up the school by the Government, it will be transferred to a new trust, and parents and staff will have no say on which MAT this is.

Every year hundreds of academies are forced to move trusts, in a process known as “re-brokering”. In 2019/20, 241 academies were re-brokered to knew trusts, representing 2.7 per cent of all academies in the country. Between 2013-14 and 2019-20 a total of 1,176 academies were re-brokered.

Joining a small MAT now does not mean your school won’t end up as part of a larger MAT: the trend is towards consolidation into bigger MATs – at least 190 trusts were given approval to merge in the 18 months from 31 August 2017.

Fact: MATs are less accountable to parents and the community

There is no requirement for MATs to include parent representatives on the ‘local’ governing bodies of each academy, in fact some MATs have even abolished local bodies altogether.

A House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report, Academy accounts and performance, January 2019, stated: “Parents and local people have to fight to obtain even basic information about their children’s schools, and academy trusts do not do enough to communicate and explain decisions that affect the schools they are responsible for and how they are spending public money.”

When a school joins a MAT it ceases to exist as a legal entity – instead the MAT board has the authority to decide which powers, if any, to delegate to local governing bodies. Furthermore, ultimate power in an academy trusts rests with its members (usually no more than four) who are the equivalent of shareholders in a commercial company. Members have the power to appoint and remove all serving trustees and change the trust’s articles of association.

Fact: pupils in academies are more likely to be taught by an unqualified teacher

2019 study published in the British Journal of Sociology Education confirmed that academies are more likely than other schools to employ teachers who are unqualified and that the percentage of teachers without qualified teacher status (QTS) in academies is rising compared with LA schools.

It also found that academies are exacerbating the tendency for schools with pupils from poorer backgrounds to hire more teachers without QTS.

Fact: becoming an academy risks losing vital support

Academies lose automatic support from the LA. Special educational needs, school improvement, and speech and language therapy services could all be lost, with no guarantee a MAT could offer the same support.

Fact: schools have better financial protection within their LA

LAs can secure economies of scale where services are supported by many local schools. Without these economies of scale, academies may well be worse off as they need to purchase services that were previously supplied by LAs – and this can cost schools more.

Academies are also outside the scope of financial help that LAs can provide, such as help to get through temporary funding shortfalls. Academies must bear redundancy costs themselves, whereas LAs can share the burden of these costs among schools.

Fact: academies spend more money on senior leadership and less money on teachers

Despite the funding crisis in schools, there is a growing layer of MAT leaders and chief executives being paid six figure salaries. In 2018-19 more than one in 10 academy trusts had a member of staff with a pay and pension package of £150,000 or more, while 1,387 – nearly half of all academy trusts - had a member of staff with a pay package of between £100,000 and £150,000.

A 2019 report estimated that MAT-wide leadership roles funded by top-slicing funding from their academies, added an additional £106 million (£13.17 per pupil) to the cost of the MAT “middle tier” compared to the cost of supporting schools through local authorities.

Meanwhile, on average, teachers in academies earn less than their counterparts in LA maintained schools, while senior leaders earn more. DfE data for 2019 shows that, on average, classroom teachers in both primary and secondary academies earned more than £1,000 less than their maintained school counterparts.

Fact: academies undermine staff terms and conditions

A MAT may promise that pay and conditions will not change, but there is no legal barrier to that happening following academy conversion. New staff joining an academy may not get the same terms and conditions as those who transferred when the school converted. While those staff who transferred have a legal right to maintain their pay and conditions on transfer, the pay and conditions for new joiners can be whatever the MAT determines.

Staff who move to academies can lose their built-up entitlement to maternity pay. Staff who later return to LA employment will have lost many rights, such as continuity of service, which is important for calculating sick pay.