“A major report by the London School of Economics this week concluded that academies are improving standards in neighbouring schools: quality is contagious; competition drives up standards,” said the Telegraph
But that’s not quite what the report said
. True, the researchers wrote, “it is possible for performance improvements in an academy to generate significant beneficial external effects on their neighbouring schools”. The researchers did find that results in neighbouring schools rose which would seem to endorse the Telegraph’s conclusion about competition. However, the researchers said that the academy effect occurred when schools were “mainly” near an academy that produced “large significant improvements in their pupil performance”. Does this mean there was little, or no, effect when schools were near an academy that did not achieve “large significant improvements”?
Despite the academy effect only seeming to work when the academy improved significantly, the researchers claim there is a possibility that neighbouring schools would improve just by being near any academy. Note – this is a possibility not a certainty. And rather than being a ringing endorsement for academies, the report concludes: “the results paint a (relatively) positive picture of the academy schools that were introduced by the Labour government of 1997-2010.” “Relatively positive” – hardly the irrefutable vote of confidence implied in the Telegraph report.
In any case correlation does not imply causation. An academy appears – academy results rise - results in neighbouring schools rise. It doesn’t follow that the rise in performance in the latter schools was caused by the appearance of the former. So what other reasons might there be? Improved methods of teaching? Teaching to the test? A move from GCSE to “easier” vocational exams? Grade inflation artificially increasing the scores in all schools?
And what happens when most schools are academies as Mr Gove wants? How will the alleged academy effect work then?