Sutton Trust: Chain Effects 2018

On 20 December 2018, the Sutton Trust released their fifth and final Chain Effects report. This analysis, which has been published every year since 2014, predominantly looks to assess the extent to which sponsored academies impact positively on the “educational outcomes of their often disadvantaged pupils”. This final report looks across the five years of data collected.

As NGA has previous reported, the Chain Effects series defines a “chain” as “three or more academies” listed under the same sponsor “for at least three years”. While many of these sponsored academies were part of a multi-academy trust (MAT) when the research was conducted, some of the schools were actually single academy trusts (SATs). Furthermore, the study focuses predominantly on secondary schools, with converter academies and primaries only included in the 2017 report.

The key findings from the report are:

  • Outcomes for disadvantaged pupils in sponsored academies varies within a chain and between chains. Looking at 2017 data, the report identified three chains that were significantly above the national average for disadvantaged pupils, and 12 with disadvantaged pupils improving faster than the national average. On the other hand, 38 chains were below the national average for disadvantaged pupils (8 of these were significantly below the national average).
  • Over the five years, there has been little variation in which chains have performed well for disadvantaged pupils and which have not. Interestingly however, the chains new to the study were more likely to have poorer outcomes than those that had been included in the analysis for a longer period of time. This suggests that it takes a number of years to turn around an under-performing school.  
  • In the high performing chains, where there are good outcomes for disadvantaged pupils there are, in general, also good outcomes for non-disadvantaged pupils.
  • The data shows that, between 2013 and 2016, outcomes for disadvantaged pupils “worsened slightly”, with the researchers attributing this to a national “move to a more academic curriculum”. However, the data also shows that sponsored academies have performed “much better against the floor standard” over the past two years, largely due to the shift toward progress measures.

This research adds to the large body of often contradictory literature around the performance of academies. For a useful synthesis of the information available in 2016, please read Are academies better? published in the July/August 2016 edition of Governing Matters.

Published: 03/01/2019, by Tom Fellows
Last Updated: 03/01/2019, by Tom Fellows