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Academies: what does the evidence tell us?

Posted on 25 May 2016

A new report from the University of York-based Cambridge Primary Review Trust reviews evidence and presents recommendations on the government’s academies policy.

In March 2016 the government announced that it would require all schools to become academies. The announcement provoked widespread controversy, especially in the primary sector where fewer than 19 percent of schools are academies.

Two months later, in response to objections, the government withdrew compulsion except for underperforming local authorities, while holding to its aim of the eventual academisation of the system as a whole.

Meanwhile, the government’s claim that academisation would guarantee school and system improvement was challenged on evidential grounds by researchers, the schools inspectorate and the House of Commons Education Committee.

In this new report, specially commissioned by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust as one of a series extending and updating the work of the Cambridge Primary Review, Warwick Mansell provides the historical background to the government’s academies drive.

He then reviews a wide array of published evidence to examine the new models of school organisation and to test claims that academy status produces professional autonomy and educational improvement. He concludes that the model is intrinsically problematic and the educational case for systemic change of this kind and on this scale has not been made.

Report author Warwick Mansell said: “Very few people outside the Department for Education itself would say that there is much robust evidence to suggest that converting schools into academies has benefited pupils, especially in the primary sector.

“I believe that a government genuinely committed to providing the best learning conditions for children would proceed much more cautiously, paying careful attention to research, and moving forward only when it was confident that major change would be for the better.”

Professor Robin Alexander, Chair of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust and Honorary Professor of Education at the University of York, adds: "Given that notwithstanding its recent moderation of the academies policy the government's intention remains intact, this evidence review is timely and important, especially for primary schools."

Further information:

  • The report: Mansell, W. (2016), Academies: autonomy, accountability, quality and evidence (CPRT Research Survey 9). York: Cambridge Primary Review Trust. ISBN 978-0-9931032-9-2. Download the full report here:
  • Download the four-page briefing/executive summary here:
  • Warwick Mansell is a freelance educational journalist and author of the much- praised book Education by Numbers: the tyranny of testing (Methuen, 2007)
  • The Cambridge Primary Review Trust is a not-for-profit company led by Professor Robin Alexander and based at the University of York. It is dedicated to building on the work of the Cambridge Primary Review, the most comprehensive enquiry into English primary education since the 1960s. Further information on the Trust, the Review and other reports in this series:

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