I think it was Enoch Powell who said that a politician who complains about the media is like a fish complaining about the sea. The same is just as true for think tanks, so this isn't a complaint just a quick counterpoint to some of the gratifyingly widespread coverage of the Academies Commission report which was published today.
Most of the press has led on the warning in the report that academies are manipulating their admissions processes to improve results. In fact, admissions takes up only one chapter of seven in the report and the Commission was deliberately cautious about what it said on the subject. Here is the quote from the report's Overview:
Evidence to the Commission illustrated the impressive commitment of many academies to social inclusion but this did not extend to all that we saw. The Commission views social segregation in the school system as a problem for equality of opportunity and to system improvement. It heard, for example, of some academies willing to take a ‘low road’ approach to school improvement by manipulating admissions rather than by exercising strong leadership. It is vital, as academies begin to assert their independence more vigorously, that such practices are eradicated. Ensuring excellent teaching and school-to-school collaboration is the route to improve learning and raise achievement for all pupils, no matter what their background.
There is no suggestion of a wholesale shift to manipulation of admissions more a warning that the poor practice of a minority of schools must not be allowed to become common practice.
The actual over-arching message of the report is best found, unsurprisingly, in the report's Overview. Here are some paragraphs (paraphrased by me) which capture that message:
The introduction of academies has provided much-needed vitality to the school system. At the same time, the evidence considered by the Commission does not suggest that improvement across all academies has been strong enough to transform the life chances of children from the poorest families. There have been some stunning successes among individual sponsored academies and academy chains, and these have raised expectations of what can be achieved even in the most deprived areas. But it is increasingly clear that academy status alone is not a panacea for improvement.
… The evidence considered by the Commission has left it convinced that there now needs to be a new, determined focus on the detailed implementation of the academies programme to ensure that it realises its transformative potential.
In particular, the Commission has recognised three imperatives for the further development of the academies programme …
• to ensure that there is a forensic focus on teaching and its impact on pupils’ learning so that the gap between the vision for academies and practice in classrooms is reduced and the words ‘academisation’ and ‘improvement’ become inextricably and demonstrably linked
• to ensure that an increasingly academised system is fair and equally accessible to children and young people from all backgrounds
• to ensure that academies demonstrate their moral purpose and professionalism by providing greater accountability to pupils, parents and other stakeholders. The role of governors is more important than ever in an academised system, and their scrutiny and challenge should ensure effective accountability.
Alternatively, listen to the Commission's Chair, Christine Gilbert, on the Today programme this morning (scroll through to 2.51 hours).