Analysing the ‘self-improving school-led system’ agenda in England

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Tuesday 3 July 2018

A new report analysing how schools in England have interpreted and begun to respond to the government’s ‘self-improving school-led system’ policy agenda has been published today.

The four-year study, undertaken by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, evaluated the government’s ‘self-improving school-led system’ (SISS), which has become an overarching narrative for education policy since 2010, making schools more autonomous and accountable for their own improvement.

The reforms have included an expansion in the number of academies and the development of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), the roll back of Local Authorities (LAs) from school oversight, and the development of new school-to-school support models, such as Teaching School Alliances (TSAs).

In order to assess the impact of these changes, IOE researchers Professor Toby Greany and Dr Rob Higham collected case studies from 47 schools across four localities and worked with NFER to evaluate the impact of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) on pupil attainment and progress, conduct a survey of almost 700 head teachers and analyse Ofsted results over a 10 year period. The quantitative strands of the project (national survey, MAT impact analysis and Ofsted analysis), led by NFER’s Simon Rutt, were carried out between autumn 2015 and spring 2017.

The researchers found that despite the government’s claims to be ‘moving control to the frontline’ and giving schools more autonomy, the reality is very different. Schools are more tightly regulated than ever, facing pressure to get good exam results and Ofsted grades or face being taken over by a MAT. Many schools have felt the need to narrow their curriculum and focus relentlessly on test outcomes in response.

In a supplementary statistical analysis of MATs, the researchers found there is no positive impact on the attainment and progress scores of pupils in MATs when compared to equivalent non-MAT schools. There were, however, important differences between MATs of different sizes. While students in smaller MATs (those with two or three academies) tended to perform better than comparator schools, pupils in larger MATs (those with 16+ schools) did worse, particularly in secondary schools.

Commenting on the methodology, Simon Rutt, Head of Statistics at NFER said: “The research undertaken by NFER statisticians and colleagues at IOE involved a complex methodology to ensure analysis was able to make like-for-like comparisons. This is getting harder to achieve with the increase in academisation and being able to find similar schools that are not yet academised, particularly for the cohort of sponsored schools.

“This analysis primarily looked at any additional benefit of being within a MAT and the results would indicate that, on average, those pupils in academies within smaller MATS, appear to make more progress when compared to similar pupils in similar schools. This was particularly so when comparing to maintained schools in the secondary sector.”

The full report findings are available to download here.