LibLink: Julian Astle – The report every school reformer should read

Over on his blog at The Telegraph, former director of the Centre Forum think tank, Julian Astle, highlights a report by researchers at the London School of Economics looking into the effect of academies. The findings are good news for supporters of greater autonomy for schools, and one of the (perhaps surprising) conclusions of the analysis is that academies don’t just raise standards for the pupils that attend them, but also for surrounding schools, even as they lose pupils to the new academies.

Here’s what the report has to say on that last point, followed by a brief conclusion from Julian:

“In addition to this, we also find that it is possible for neighbouring schools to experience significant improvements in their pupil performance despite the reduction in the ‘quality’ of their pupil intake. This seems to occur (mainly) in the neighbours of academy schools that experience large significant improvements in their pupil performance. We do not believe that this is a coincidence: it suggests that it is possible for performance improvements in an academy to generate significant beneficial external effects on their neighbouring schools.”

It is hard to overstate the importance of this finding. If the benefits of academy conversion were captured only by those children lucky enough to attend an academy, ministers would need to weigh those benefits against the costs incurred by children elsewhere in the system. But this report confirms what economic theory predicts: that competition raises standards across the board. Finding a way to increase the level of competition in the system should therefore be a key policy objective, even in these fiscally constrained times.

You can read Julian’s full take on the report, and find a link to the document itself, here.

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8 Comments

  • David Allen 27th May '11 - 7:04pm

    Hmm. The problem with all these issues is that novelty always tends to work a treat. So yes, the introduction of new competition in place of monopoly generally makes everybody sharpen up, try harder, and achieve a transient improvement. Ten years down the road, when things have settled down into stable oligopoly, and the competitors have shifted their focus away from survival and towards how to grow rich and fat together, the improvements disappear.

    But that doesn’t matter if you’re a Tory, the people who wanted to get rich have done so, problem solved!

  • If it’s the report everyone should read, perhaps you should have read it rather than just relying on The Telegraph. The report quite clearly points out that this effect only occurred in the very early conversions and that there was the opposite effect on the later ones.

    “We see that there have been significant improvements in the KS4 pupil performance in
    the schools that are neighbours to either early academy cohort conversions … However, there have been significant reductions in the KS4 pupil performance in the schools that are neighbours to later academy cohort conversion …”

    They also make it clear that the early academies took the best pupils from the neighbouring schools and the best teachers.

  • William Pimm 27th May '11 - 9:04pm

    Hmmm. An academy is set up and the pupils performance is found to be better than before the academy was set up and at the same time children in neighbouring schools have improved pupil performance. The improvement of performance at the academy may or may not be due to the teaching at the academy and similarly the performance of the neighbouring schools may or may not have been due to the effect of the academy or the improvement in pupil performance may to other factors which are affecting the performance of pupils in the area. Having said that the LSE has a good reputation for research, and I would be the last person to suggest that it is possible to buy a PhD by donating millions of pounds to the college.

  • Simon McGrath 27th May '11 - 9:49pm

    It amazes me that so many Lib dems are obsessively against academies and free schools. putting dogma and state above the intersts of children

  • It’s an interesting article and I’ll have to read the report myself.

    But Ian Sanderson, can a school not simply shed teachers or make adjustments over the summer if they find that they’re not going to have enough pupils? Would they really have to keep staff on they can’t afford for the next year?

    I don’t know how schools work but it would be pretty silly if they had to lag a year behind.

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