The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power aiming to improve England’s dismal showing in global education rankings (it came 26th in the recent maths-centred round of PISA tests run by the OECD). It swiftly embarked on a mission to expand the conversion of state schools into so-called academies.

The reforms have shown commendable vim, compared with the halting overhauls of other major public services such as health and welfare. An “unprecedented change in England’s schools” is under way, says Stephen Machin, an economics professor at University College London. In 2010 all 203 academies were sponsored by businesses, religious groups or charities, and mainly set up to replace under-performing schools. Most of the more recent converters, by contrast, have not benefited from the external guidance of sponsors, whether individuals, other schools or charitable foundations. Instead, they are trying to change directly from being council-run schools to academies—a harder task


Currently, only half of academies are part of a group, and the majority of these are in a group of ten schools or fewer. Our view is that the following actions should be taken to encourage schools to join groups:

The government should expect most schools to join groups.

The government should strengthen the ability of school groups to develop strategic corporate centres. It should expect school groups to invest between 8 and 10 per cent of the group’s revenue in their corporate centre.

Individual schools that are part of high performing school groups should be exempt from Ofsted inspection. The school group should be inspected instead.

The government should devolve school capital budgets to competent school groups.

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