The report argues that some academies are “manipulating admissions” and getting around rules designed to prevent the unfair selection of pupils by holding “social events” and “pre-admission meetings” with prospective parents.
It also raises concerns that academies are asking parents to fill out lengthy “supplementary information forms”, in addition to the standardised application process used by all schools, allowing schools to select pupils based on their parents’ “cultural capital”.
The report does recognise the individual successes of many academies, but argues for a more systematic approach to the implementation of the academies programme, including tougher rules on admissions and a new independent appeals service.
It recommends that academies be required to publish data about their admissions, so that the Office of Schools adjudicator could then act on any suggestions of inequality.
The report meanwhile highlights the fact that many good and outstanding schools that have converted to academy status since 2010 have failed to deliver on pledges to offer support to other local schools, which they made in their applications to convert.
It says further collaboration between schools is essential to “generate fundamental change across the school system” and suggests that schools rather than local authorities should take direct responsibility for all school improvement activity, supporting one another.
To make sure that this happens, the commission recommends that Ofsted be unable to judge a school outstanding for leadership, unless it can provide “evidence of its contribution to system-wide improvement, such as support for the improvement of another school”.
Christine Gilbert, former chief inspector of Ofsted and chair of the commission, said the report is intended to help translate the academies vision into “widespread and sustainable educational improvements”.
“There are already many examples of stunning success; however academisation alone cannot bear the burden of improvement,” she said.
“There has to be enough support and challenge in the system, and enough checks and balances, for academies or groups of academies to be able to use the independence they have gained professionally and with moral purpose.
“In a successfully academised system, we will see schools supporting and learning from one another to improve the quality of education in this country. They will operate as a community of schools, each independent but working best if connected to the rest of the system.”
But Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary, said the report highlights serious problems with the Education Secretary Michael Gove’s management of one of Labour's key school improvement programmes.
“Academies under Labour were about raising standards and this government is putting that legacy at risk,” he said.
“The report issues a clear warning on the implementation of the academies policy, echoing Labour’s concerns that under this government the schools system is becoming chaotic, impacting on standards and fairness.”