Academies raise performance in poorest areas

Academies in some of the poorest areas in England are successfully raising academic achievement and aspirations among pupils, according to a new report.

Experts at Plymouth University and Cornwall College found improved behaviour, a greater level of engagement, continued professional development of staff and a more entrepreneurial style of leadership.

The report covered six academies in the north and south of the country.

Dr Rowena Passy, of the Plymouth Institute of Education, said: “The increase in the number and type of academies, together with the development of academy chains, is arguably the most significant recent development in educational policy in England.

“This study provides an insight into the challenges they face and the methods they’ve used to meet them.”

All of the academies were in areas of high levels of poverty and limited employment prospects.

The research team spent time in each, interviewing principals and staff to gauge what the issues were and how those issues were being tackled.

Dr Tanya Ovenden-Hope, director of education with the Cornwall College Group, said: “We found that poor experiences of education had created an ‘anti-education’ culture in some places, with learning perceived to have little positive impact on life chances.

“While these might mirror the conditions surrounding inner-city schools, the isolated location of these coastal academies brought additional challenges of educational isolation, staff recruitment, squeezed budgets due to falling numbers, failing primaries, and the difficulties of engaging students and their families with education.”

By 2012-13, all six academies had met the Department for Education baseline of 40 per cent of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at A* to C (or equivalent) including English and mathematics.

That number dropped to four the following year when new performance measures were introduced which limited the number of vocational qualifications that could be included.

Changing school culture was found to be key for all of the academies, moving from one of low aspiration to one of engaging students with their learning,

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