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School Structure, School Autonomy and the Tail


  • Stephen Machin
  • Olmo Silva


In this paper, we survey the UK-based literature on school structures and school autonomy to identify settings in which alternative and more autonomous school arrangements can improve the educational attainments of pupils in the bottom tail of the achievement distribution. We also present new evidence on the effect of school academies on the age-16 GCSE attainment of students of different abilities up to 2009, before the Coalition Government changed the nature of the Labour academy programme. Within the UK education system, academies enjoy substantial autonomy in terms of management of their staff, taught curriculum, length of the school day and other aspects of their day-to-day functioning. Our results show that schools that converted to academies between 2002 and 2007 improved their overall age-16 GCSEs results by further raising the attainments of students in the top half of the ability distribution, and in particular pupils in the top 20% tail. Conversely, we find little evidence that academies helped pupils in the bottom 10% and 20% of the ability distribution. Finally, we find little evidence that late converters (2008 and 2009) had any beneficial effects on pupils of any ability. We conclude our research by comparing the experience of UK academies to that of US charter schools and Swedish free schools, and by providing some insights into the reasons why UK academies did not serve 'the tail' as is the case for some US charter schools.

Suggested Citation

  • Stephen Machin & Olmo Silva, 2013. "School Structure, School Autonomy and the Tail," CEP Special Papers 29, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  • Handle: RePEc:cep:cepsps:29

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Stephen Gibbons & Olmo Silva, 2011. "Faith Primary Schools: Better Schools or Better Pupils?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(3), pages 589-635.
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    6. Simon Burgess & Carol Propper & Helen Slater & Deborah Wilson, 2005. "Who wins and who loses from school accountability? The distribution of educational gain in English secondary schools," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 05/128, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
    7. Stephen Machin & James Vernoit, 2011. "Changing School Autonomy: Academy Schools and their Introduction to England's Education," CEE Discussion Papers 0123, Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE.
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    12. Atila Abdulkadiroğlu & Joshua D. Angrist & Susan M. Dynarski & Thomas J. Kane & Parag A. Pathak, 2011. "Accountability and Flexibility in Public Schools: Evidence from Boston's Charters And Pilots," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(2), pages 699-748.
    13. Bradley, Steve & Taylor, Jim, 2002. "The Effect of the Quasi-market on the Efficiency-Equity Trade-Off in the Secondary School Sector," Bulletin of Economic Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(3), pages 295-314, July.
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    15. Caroline M. Hoxby & Sonali Murarka, 2009. "Charter Schools in New York City: Who Enrolls and How They Affect Their Students' Achievement," NBER Working Papers 14852, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ichino, Andrea & Tabellini, Guido, 2014. "Freeing the Italian school system," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(C), pages 113-128.
    2. repec:spr:soinre:v:134:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11205-016-1464-5 is not listed on IDEAS

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