Government Set to Rate Over 40% of Secondary Schools as Under-Performing

Henry Stewart's picture
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Last June Michael Gove announced that, from 2015 the floor targets for English secondary schools will be 50%. Any school below the floor target is regarded as "under-performing" and in danger of being taken over by an academy or chain. Also from that year less equivalent qualifications will be counted as GCSEs. The DfE has now released details of what % of students would achieve the benchmark 5 GCSEs (including English and Maths) under the new rules (which can be downloaded from here.)

This indicates that 1,300 secondary schools are currently below the new floor target and in danger of facing direct action from Michael Gove. That would be over 40% of the 3,000 mainstream secondary schools in England. (There is a caveat, that the schools would not be regarded as under-performing if a higher-than-average number of children in a school are making the expected amount of progress in English and Maths but the DfE did not include this information when it released the data.)

What is Gove's Agenda?



While it is good to be ambitious, it is not clear what benefit it will bring to education to have as many as 1,000 or more schools branded as failures. There is inevitably a suspicion that this new floor target will be used to force schools to become academies and, in the case of academies, to become part of academy chains. (What will happen to schools already part of chains? Perhaps they will be moved to other chains.)

Academies Are Less Likely to Achieve the Floor Target



Of course the irony is that this same data once again indicates that becoming academies or chains makes them no more likely to achieve the floor target.

Non-academies: In 2011 60% achieved the new 2015 floor target
Sponsor-led academies: Only 20% achieved the new target

The figure is only marginally better for academies in chains, of whom 23% achieved the target. The DfE will argue that the comparison is unfair as many academies are relatively new. So I have also checked the figures for long established academies:

Academies established for 5 years or more: 38% achieved the new target

Again it is only fair to compare similar schools, so let's compare the schools where 40% or more of children are on free school meals:

Academies, 40% or more FSM: 14% achieved 2015 floor target
Non-academies, 40% or more FSM: 32% achieved 2015 floor target

There is no doubt that help and support should be provided to any schools that are genuinely under-performing. However there is no evidence that the likely Gove solution of forced conversion to academies and chains will bring any benefit.

Data note: 'Academies' here refer only to the original 249 'sponsor-led' academies, not the very recent conversions.
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