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“Failing Schools”: Do Academies do better?

My recent posts have outlined how the DfE data show that non-academies are getting great results and outperforming academies of similar intake. Those who want to believe that academies are more successful have argued that academies generally take over failing schools and therefore it isn’t a fair comparison.

So let’s compare a similar set of schools. I’ve extracted the data for schools where less than 15% of students achieved 5 GCSEs including English and Maths in 2008. We can argue about figures but can generally agree these schools were not doing well. There were 27 in total, of which 7 became academies and 20 did not.

Now the 7 academies did well, going from an average 13% to 38% in 3 years. That is 1% off tripling their results in three years. On its own that looks pretty impressive, and you can see the DfE press release writing itself. If you state these figures on their own, the picture is of fast increasing academies, with the assumption they’d have stayed static and “failing” if they hadn’t become academies.

But when you look at the comparison schools that picture changes. Their results increased from 12% to 35% between 2008 and 2011, again just 1% off tripling in three years. So poor performing schools are being transformed whatever their status. There is no magic academy effect.

Now the % rise here was indeed slightly higher in the academies (25% v 23%). But look at the figures without the GCSE equivalents (Btecs etc), that Gove derides, and the picture changes: The academies grew from 13% getting 5 GCSEs including English and Maths in 2008 to 18% (without equivalents) in 2011. The non-academies, however, grew from  12% to 21% – a clearly bigger rise.

(Technical note: We don’t have 2008 figures without equivalents so the 2008 data here is with equivalents, while the 2011 are without. But the 2008 data is directly comparable between the two groups, as is the 2011 data.)

The DfE should be delighted with their success in raising school results across the board. The data shows that all disadvantaged schools are increasing their results. But the evidence is clear that, even with clearly under-performing schools, there is no evidence of better performance if schools converted to become an academy.

Postscript: The DfE has commented that this is too small a sample. We therefore did the same analysis on all schools with less than 35%. 46 academies this time. Same result.


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  1. Good effort Henry.

    Of course in analysing whether a school becoming an academy or not we should take two routes.

    The first is verification – looking at the evidence of what is happening – and you’ve clearly done that.

    The second is validation – looking at the structural logic as to why schools becoming academies should have made a difference. I’ve never heard anyone make any vaguely credible attempt to validate this government’s academies policy – just some waffly ideological guff about more freedom = better quality from people who clear can’t link that ideology to reality at all.

    In fact the moment you look at the validity of this government’s education policies you see all sorts of problems in the future. The loss of the local planning, support and monitoring infrastructures and the expertise associated with them being on of the most obvious hits. The negative effects of this and other changes are likely to increase over time, while there is no coherent logic which suggests that the effects of the increased confidence and enthusiasm of those inspired by Gove will be sustained.

  2. Good work, Henry. This shows that academy conversion is not essential to raise achievement although the Government would have us believe otherwise. As early as 2008, PriceWaterhouseCooper found that where academies were improving, they were using similar methods to those found in improving LA schools. Outstanding leaders and stability in leadership were “critical” to improve standards.

    This message seems to have been missed by the Government even though the schools minister cited the report in the Commons on 31 January. The PwC report is discussed in more detail here:

  3. Does anyone know who the auditors of this government’s academies program are? Where can we find the reports equivalent to the PWC reports?

    • The National Audit Office published a report on academies in 2010. Their assessment was that while the performance of some academies was impressive there were others which performed poorly, particularly in Maths and English. The report is discussed in more detail on the thread below – this considers the four reports which the schools minister said endorsed the academies programme. But only one, the Public Accounts Committee, wholeheartedly praised the programme and cited the National Audit Office report as evidence. But the NAO report did not fully endorse academies which casts doubt on the Committee’s assessment of the performance of academies.

      • Yes but they were the Academies of the last government not the Academies of this government. How is the impact of this government’s program being audited? Hasn’t this government also shut down the National Audit Office? I assume the contract must be back in private hands?

        I can’t see any reason why the previous academies program should be used as evidence to justify or condemn this one. The two bear little resemblance.

  4. I got a response from DfE on this one, complaining the sample was too small. So I’ve run the data again, this time on all schools with figures of less than 35% getting 5 A-Cs including English and Maths in 2008. This produces 46 academies and 594 non-academies.

    The academies go from 25% in 2008 to 43% in 2011 on 5 GCSEs EM, but fall back to 29% without equivalents.
    The non academies go from 28% to 45%, and fall back to 34% without equivalents.

    Exactly the same pattern – academies closed the gap a little, by 1%, on raw %5 GCSEs EM, but the gap increased in favour of the non-academies when equivalents are taken out.

  5. […] When Academies were first introduced by the previous Labour government – to significant opposition – their remit was to support failing schools. Each Academy had a sponsor that brought knowledge, skill, expertise and a focus which did often lead to an improvement in that school, no great surprise when they were subjected to additional resources. This led to an erroneous conclusion that Academies were good, Local Authority schools were bad but the evidence does not support this simplistic conclusion. An example of some work done on this comparison can be found on the Local Schools Network website. […]

  6. […] questionable evidence about the ability of an academy to ‘cure’ the problems of a school, as this article states: “the data shows that all disadvantaged schools are increasing their results. But the […]

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“Failing Schools”: Do Academies do better?

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