Stories + Views
Schools GCSE Data: How the Government Will Present It
This Thursday the DfE will release the detailed data on how each secondary school in England performed at GCSEs in 2012, including comparison to previous years, figures with and without GCSE equivalents and comparison by free school meal status and by (low, medium or high) performance of students at age 11. It is a remarkably useful and comprehensive set of information, and the Department is to be congratulated for distributing it.
However, judging by its past record, the government is likely to spin the information in support of its academies policy in a way that is at best misleading and at worst dishonest. Two statements that are likely, as government ministers have been using them over the past few months, are:
“Convertor academies achieved above other schools, with 68% achieving 5ACEM (5 GCSEs including English and Maths), compared to 57% in schools overall.”
“Performance in sponsored academies grew at a rate twice as fast as schools overall.”
Sponsored Academies: What to Look For
Converter Academies: What to Look For
“Converter academies” are those Good and Outstanding schools encouraged by Gove to convert in the last two years. These were, by definition, the better performing schools. They therefore had better GCSE results and will, unless disaster has struck, continue to have better GCSE results. To claim their higher results are due to academy status is about as sensible as selecting a group of people based on being above average height and then boasting that they are taller than the average. Key questions to ask include:
** Have GCSE results in Converter Academies risen or fallen since becoming academies?
** How have they fared compared to Good or Outstanding schools who did not convert? (Ofsted ratings are unlikely to be included, so the appropriate comparison will be with other schools on similar levels of GCSE achievement.)
As I’ve already noted, the first indications are that results in Converter Academies actually fell. If this is confirmed by Thursday’s data, then serious questions should be asked about the £1 billion overspend on academy conversion.
The Key Question
The government has made clear that its main vehicle of school improvement is the academy programme (and the linked free school initiative, but few of these will have any results yet). The National Audit Office questioned the £1 billion overspend in pursuit of this strategy. So the key question is:
Has this £1 billion been a good use of public money? Does the data show that it has actually resulted in significant school improvement?
And, if the data is presented in this misleading way, it begs the question of why? If academies were really performing as well as the government claims, then surely no distortion of the statistics would be necessary.
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