Are England’s Academies More Inclusive or More ‘Exclusive’? The Impact of Institutional Change on the Pupil Profile of Schools
In 2002 the former Labour government launched the Academies Programme of school improvement. This scheme has targeted entrenched issues of pupil underachievement within state secondary schools located in deprived areas, by enabling private sponsors to run the renewed schools and by granting Academies independence from local authority control. A total of 203 institutions were established by the end of Labour's time in power (April 2010). This paper considers the efficacy of the scheme in delivering on an objective determined at its inception - that requiring Academies to feature a more inclusive and mixed-ability background of pupils. Administrative information in the National Pupil Database is combined with school-level data to assess how the academic quality and composition of pupils entering year 7 of Academies and how their whole school composition has compared to those in predecessor and non-Academy schools. Difference-in-differences regression analysis is applied to a sample of 33 Academies and 326 control schools over the period 1997-2007. Findings reveal an immediate boost to intake quality among Academies once the policy came into effect and a fall in entry by pupils of weaker prior ability, while sampled Academies have also taken in fewer pupils from underprivileged backgrounds. Thus Academies have actually featured a more 'exclusive' pupil profile. The Coalition government - formed since May 2010 - has extended the policy to allow all state schools to become Academies. Newer Academies, like the original ones, may adapt their admissions in a performance-favouring way, implying a worsening of educational opportunity under both policy versions.
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