Sponsored academies worse than LA schools at Key Stage 1, says DfE

Janet Downs's picture
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“Pupils in converter academies do better than those in local authority maintained schools in all subjects. Pupils in sponsored academies do worse than those in local authority maintained schools in all subjects. Performance in free schools is similar to local authority maintained schools in reading, speaking and listening and mathematics but slightly lower in writing and science.”

Department for Education, 3 October 2013

The sample of free schools would be too low to come to any conclusion about their performance as a group.  It’s unclear how many of these would have entered pupils for either the Phonics Test or Key Stage 1 assessment.

Converter primary academies, of course, were mainly schools previously judged Good or Outstanding so it should be expected they would as a group perform better than other types of schools.

Sponsored academies, on the other hand, were mainly schools alleged to be under-performing even though they tended to be on an upward trajectory.  It should be expected they would perform at a lower level.  But according to the Government, “some of the improvements seen at new sponsored primary academies are remarkable – ending years of chronic under-performance.”   This is an exaggeration.

It’s impossible to check rates of improvement because school-level results for phonics and KS1 are not published in performance tables.

However, they must be available somewhere because the Independent quoted the phonics test results for Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane (previously Downhills School).  The Independent claims the school had improved dramatically and was an “advert for the academy system”.

But correlation isn’t causation.  And Downhills was already improving.  Ofsted said so in a monitoring inspection in September 2012 before changing its mind after a full inspection in January 2013 following Education Secretary Michael Gove’s insistence that Downhills became an academy.  Such an abrupt about-turn by Ofsted does, of course, bring Ofsted into disrepute and we’ve no way of knowing which of the inspections is the most reliable, if any. 

Putting aside the dubious Ofsted inspections, results at Downhills were rising.  In 2011, 63% of pupils achieved Level 4 in English and Maths.  In 2012, 67% did so.  These results were up from 40% in 2009 (no Sats were taken at the school during the 2010 Sat boycott).  In 2013, the results rose again to 69% achieving Level 4 in Reading, Maths and Writing.  

So, it appears Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane fits the trend discovered above.  A low-performing school shows improved results.  The school is persuaded (or forced) to become an academy with a sponsor who can take credit for any further rise in results.  In Downhills’ case, the local authority continued to support the school (Ofsted July 2012) but its contribution to the school’s progress has been ignored.  The school’s improvement, according to the Independent, is down to the “academy system”.

But the “academy system” isn’t a magic bullet.  Increasing evidence, Henry Stewart’s, the Academies Commission, NFER, shows academies do no better than similar non-academies and, NFER said, when other factors are identified and taken into account, the so-called” academy effect” could even disappear.

CORRECTION 21 January 2014

The data for Downhills/Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane in the thread is inaccurate. I wasn't aware the way of calculating the Level 4 benchmark had changed. In 2013, headline results for primary schools are based on the proportion gaining Level 4 in Reading, Writing and Maths. In 2012, the results were based on the English and Maths scores. The DfE included amended 2012 results in the 2013 performance tables. But the 2012 figures for Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane were missing because it had become an academy (and changed its name) in September 2012. I looked at the 2012 table for Downhills but this gave the proportion reaching Level 4 in English as Maths. However, digging deeper into the tables showed 61% of Downhills pupils reached Level 4 in Reading, Writing and Maths in 2012. The amended data shows the proportion rose from 61% to 69%. However, this does not alter the fact that the school was improving and the school was being supported by the LA as late as July 2012.
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