Free schools or academies improve all schools

John Rentoul

flag Free schools or academies improve all schoolsFraser Nelson draws attention to a “substantially updated and revised” study of schools reform in Sweden, which concludes that free schools (eventually) improve all schools in their municipality:

We find that an increase in the share of independent-school students improves average performance at the end of compulsory school as well as long-run educational outcomes. We show that these effects are very robust with respect to a number of potential issues, such as grade inflation and pre-reform trends. However, for most outcomes, we do not detect positive and statistically significant effects until approximately a decade after the reform. This is notable, but not surprising given that it took time for independent schools to become more than a marginal phenomenon in Sweden. We do not find positive effects on school expenditures. Hence, the educational performance effects are interpretable as positive effects on school productivity. We further find that the average effects primarily are due to external effects (e.g., school competition), and not that independent-school students gain significantly more than public-school students.

This is similar to the findings of the effect of academy schools in Britain. (This study applies to Labour’s sponsored academies, not the new “converter” academies that have come in since 2010, but the principle of school autonomy is the same and converter schools or chains thereof could become sponsors of new academies in turn.)

I think this is important.

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  • Toocleverbyhalf

    I’m deeply sceptical about applying the results of investigations into Scandinavian countries to anywhere other than Scandinavia.

    They’re such underpopulated places. Sweden for example only has about a seventh the population of the UK. (Norway, the one that’s often trotted out by the “we’d be better off out of the EU” mob, is even tinier).

    I’m also deeply sceptical about taking in isolation the results of studies that support the views of the people who give them publicity.

    I don’t think this is really very important at all…

  • Kippers

    Actually the UK study quoted by Rentoul near the end of this piece says that the quality of the intake to Academies (and to neighouring schools) is higher than to LEA schools, not that the performance of Academies is significantly better than LEA schools – Academies attract better pupils and do not necessarily improve the performance of the average student. And as a statistical study it doesn’t tell us what Academies do differently. It is a very thin piece of work on which to base a major policy change. My children went to an Academy and it was dire: I don’t recognise the assumptions of the benefits that this paper makes. There are of course two other major studies of this policy that conclude that the benefits are insignificant.

  • Pacificweather

    Sweden seems to be the example both sides of this debate use to demonstrate their case. A similar article a few months ago about a Swedish report came to the opposite conclusion. Personally, I favour Costa Rica as the prime example. Why Sweden has been selected for this debate is a mystery.

  • John Rentoul

    The LSE study says that the quality of intake of academies improved, which they would if they had become good schools, but it takes that into account and still says that academies raised standards, not just in academies but in neighbouring schools too. I’m interested in these “two other major studies”: can you link or send me an email?

  • Kippers

    The two other major studies are mentioned at the top of page 12 of the LSE report that you quote.
    “The LSE study says that the quality of intake of academies improved, which they would if they had become good schools ….”
    That is a major assumption. Choice of secondary school is very constrained for most families and it isn’t always easy to choose a secondary school on the basis of whether it is good or not. Furthermore parents may attempt to choose a school because they think that it is going to be good, whether or not this is true. There has been a lot of hype about Academies so parents presume that these are schools in which a lot of effort will be made to improve education yet these studies fail to tell us what improvement and innovation is going on in Academies.

  • Wac Doc

    According to Terry Wrigley’s analysis of academy results, they have not improved educational standards. This despite the extra money which the first ones were given. We have now had 10 years of this experiment and it is not working. What is more, when academies fail (as they are doing, despite all the headlines) nothing is done about it and local authorities can do nothing about it.

    If, in Sweden, all schools have improved, why is that credited to the “free” schools. Might it not be some other factor altogether. But let us not let facts get in the way of political prejudice.

  • Wac Doc
  • porkfright

    Academies idea is about privatising and selling off public assets. End of story.

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