Page last updated at 13:56 GMT, Friday, 28 November 2008

Academy intakes 'less deprived'

Academy school
Academies have begun to attract a less deprived intake

Academies are widening their social appeal, with these "independent state schools" in poorer areas now drawing a less deprived intake of pupils.

A report based on 24 early academies shows that the proportion of pupils entitled to free schools meals is down by seven percentage points to 35%.

However the proportions of pupils with special needs and having English as a second language have increased.

Schools Minister Jim Knight pointed to academies' popularity with parents.

This is the fifth annual government-funded report from consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, who have tracked the development of academies since they were launched in 2002.

Changing profile

This type of secondary school was intended to raise standards in deprived areas which had a long experience of educational underachievement.

These high profile, high cost schools, supported by external sponsors, were intended as educational regeneration projects.

But this latest report, based on the evidence of an early group of academies, shows that the social profile of the intake has begun to change - down from 42% eligible for free school meals to 35%.

This still means that the proportion of free school meal pupils is almost three times the 13% average for secondary schools - but it suggests that more better-off families want to send their children to these schools.

The report has tracked the experiences of these 24 early academies whereas there are now more than a hundred operating.

However the latest figures suggest that the report's findings are in line with what has been happening at later academies - with 33% of academy pupils eligible for free school meals.

The proportion of pupils with English as a second language is 24% - more than double the national average of 11%.

Oversubscribed

There have been other changes identified by the report. Academies have tended to become bigger schools - up from an average of 753 pupils to 951.

This could reflect a growing demand for schools replacing what were sometimes struggling and unpopular predecessor schools - with the report showing that there are now 2.6 applications for every academy place.

However the report also highlights that there is no consistent "academy effect" and that these schools, with their own local circumstances, can have very different experiences.

While some are heavily oversubscribed, a quarter of the group have empty places in their Year 7 intakes - which the report says could be parents wanting to wait and see whether they are really an improvement on their predecessors.

There are also wide variations in the proportions of pupils with English as a second language - in some schools this represents a majority, in others less than one per cent.

In terms of performance, academies have improved results at an above-average rate, but the report points to the variations in the rates of progress, often from a very low starting point.

For both absenteeism and exclusions, the report says that as a group these schools have rates that are above average, but there seems to be no clear overall trend as to the direction of these rates.

It also highlights that parents see improving behaviour as an important factor - and that when academies exclude a high number of pupils this can be seen as a positive attraction to parents.

Schools Minister Jim Knight said: "I'm delighted too that academies are attracting back parents who shunned the underperforming schools they replaced."



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