Autonomy is “not positive” for the classroom, academy leaders say

Autonomy is “not positive” for the classroom, academy leaders say

New research by the Sutton Trust shows that nearly half of academy leaders in England believe autonomy associated with their status has either had “no effect or a negative impact” in the classroom.

The survey of over 1,000 school leaders across England by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that despite 42 per cent of the sample of 143 academy leaders saying academy autonomy had a positive effect in the classroom, 30 per cent believed it had no effect.

Eighteen per cent said they it had a negative impact and 10 per cent said they didn’t know.

The findings show that only 27 per cent of all those – including teachers and leaders - who work in academies thought that their autonomy had a positive impact in the classroom.

Eight per cent of staff at non-academy schools saw academy autonomy as beneficial.

The research is being published ahead of a Sutton Trust summit in New York, which will look at international evidence on improving social mobility.

For those that found autonomy to have a positive effect, most cited freedom on the curriculum (63 per cent) and control over resources (60 per cent).

The polling also shows that schools in the UK are increasingly using the pupil premium to plug funding gaps resulting from the real terms spending cuts facing many schools.

One in three senior leaders (34 per cent) say the pupil premium is being used to plug gaps in their budget, an increase of 30 per cent from last year.

Over 70 per cent of secondary school leaders say that their schools has had to cut teachers over the last year, with a similar proportion saying the same about teaching assistants or support staff.

Staff cuts are lower, but also on the rise in primary schools with 60 per cent cutting teaching assistants and 24 per cent classroom teachers.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said today:

“Today’s polling shows that many academy leaders are sceptical about the benefits of their autonomy. The focus should not be on school structures but on improving the quality of teaching in schools.

“The evidence from work by the Sutton Trust and by the Education Endowment Foundation shows overwhelming that improving quality of teaching is the key to boosting standards for all pupils and disadvantaged pupils in particular.

“It is very worrying that schools are losing teachers as a result of spending cuts. The result is that they are also increasingly plugging funding gaps with the pupil premium.”

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