School Structure, School Autonomy and the Tail
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.
13 March 2013 Paper Number CEPSP29
This CEP report is published under the centre's Education and skills programme.