Changing School Autonomy: Academy Schools and their Introduction to England's Education
In this paper, we study a high profile case - the introduction of academy schools into the English secondary school sector - that has allowed schools to gain more autonomy and flexible governance by changing their school structure. We consider the impact of an academy school conversion on their pupil intake and pupil performance and possible external effects working through changes in the pupil intake and pupil performance of neighbouring schools. These lines of enquiry are considered over the school years 2001-02 to 2008-09. We bypass the selection bias inherent in previous evaluations of academy schools by comparing the outcomes of interest in academy schools to a specific group of comparison schools, namely those state-maintained schools that go on to become academies after our sample period ends. This approach allows us to produce a well-balanced treatment and control group. Our results suggest that moving to a more autonomous school structure through academy conversion generates a significant improvement in the quality of their pupil intake and a significant improvement in pupil performance. We also find significant external effects on the pupil intake and the pupil performance of neighbouring schools. All of these results are strongest for the schools that have been academies for longer and for those who experienced the largest increase in their school autonomy. In essence, the results paint a (relatively) positive picture of the academy schools that were introduced by the Labour government of 1997-2010. The caveat is that such benefits have, at least for the schools we consider, taken a while to materialise.
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