children in classroom

Researchers have uncovered broad differences in the achievement of disadvantaged children

Significant divides between – and within – regions in the performance of multi academy trusts highlights the need for a new collaborative culture between schools, new analysis says.

Researchers have uncovered broad differences in the achievement of disadvantaged children across different MATs, both regionally and locally.

The research says it is likely some trusts are adopting more successful strategies and approaches to improve outcomes for disadvantaged learners, and this good practice should be shared.

At the highest-performing trust in the country, in London, 60 per cent of disadvantaged pupils achieved both English and maths GCSE at grade 5 or above. This compares to 34 per cent at the highest-performing trust in the South West. The report says context explains these differences, but there is a need to tackle variation to promote equity.

The analysis was carried out as part of the work of the South-West Social Mobility Commission, which was set up to tackle the poor education and early career outcomes faced by children and young people from under-resourced backgrounds across the peninsula. The Commission, supported by the University of Exeter, brings together a group of civic leaders and a dedicated strategy unit to drive action across the region to address these issues.

Lee Elliot Major, from the Commission, and Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, said: “The stark differences across a range of outcomes for children from under-resourced backgrounds in different school trusts suggests there is huge room for improvement across the sector when it comes to levelling the playing field of learning. We need to do much more to consistently embrace equity approaches that are more likely to address barriers to learning both inside and outside our classrooms – while acknowledging that every school serves its own unique community. 

“We must tread carefully when inferring conclusions from these comparisons because of the range of contextual factors that shape the outcomes for multi academy trusts. It is extremely difficult to ascertain the combination of factors leading to greater progress for disadvantaged pupils.

“But it is clear strategies and approaches in some trusts may be having some success, and that they are worth investigating as possible approaches by others.”

Researchers analysed school performance by pupils who have at some point qualified for free school meals in the last six years.

They examined 216 eligible multi academy trusts across the country for which 2023 attainment data was recently released by the government. This accounts for approximately 16% of MATs in England. Regions vary significantly in their level and maturity of academisation which may affect the range of performance outcomes in different regions.

Researchers analysed how many children achieved grade 5 and above in GCSE English and Maths; the proportion of disadvantaged pupils achieving the English Baccalaureate and average attainment 8 score/ average point score across eight subjects. The performance measures are weighted based on the number of pupils in each school, as well as on the (capped) number of years for which they have been part of the Trust.

London was the only region where, amongst the MATs analysed, more than a quarter of disadvantaged students, 37.2%, achieved both English and maths GCSE at grade 5 or above.

The South West was the lowest-performing region on this measure, with only 20.1% of disadvantaged students from eligible MATs achieving this, closely followed by the South East, where the average was 21.8%.

In the South West the proportion of disadvantaged students achieving grade 5 or above in both English and maths GCSE varies from 5% to 34%. In London, this same metric ranges from 20% to 60%.

Across the 216 MATs analysed the percentage of disadvantaged pupils achieving the English Baccalaureate was lowest in the South West, at 8.1% and second lowest in the South East at 9 per cent. London was the highest-performing region in this metric, with 25.3% of disadvantaged students obtaining a 9-4 pass across EBacc subjects. The highest performance of any one trust in the South West was 16%, while in London it was 56%.

The highest regional average for Attainment 8 score for disadvantaged students was 42.4 in London, whereas it was 33.6 in the South West.

For average Attainment 8 scores for disadvantaged pupils the East Midlands had the smallest range between the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ performing eligible trusts, ranging from 30.2 to 42.0. The West Midlands saw the largest range between eligible trusts, from 27.4 to 55.1.