DfE tells the media exactly what to say – let’s hope the media sees through the propaganda

Janet Downs's picture
A recent Department for Education press release about the approved free schools and University Technical Colleges (UTCs) has a helpful footnote entitled “Notes to Editors”.  One paragraph says:

“9 At home, schools with greater independence are also excelling. From 2009 to 2010, results in academies increased by an average of 7.8 percentage points (proportion of pupils in academies achieving five or more GCSEs at A*-C, including English and maths) compared with the national average increase of 4.5 percentage points for all state schools”.

I hope that education editors remember that the pre-2010 academies were converted from schools which were judged to be failing.  Any improvement in scores, therefore, has to be judged against this low base.  The DfE is being disingenuous when it says that the improvement score for pre-2010 academies is a sign of excellence when compared with non-academies, most of which were not poorly-performing when the pre-2010 were established.  There are, indeed, successful academies just as there are successful non-academies.  And there are poorly-performing academies just as there are poorly-performing non-academies.  But Government propaganda maintains that only academies achieve excellence.

In 2010, there were 3,127 state secondary schools in England. 202 of these were academies.  So Mr Gove has dismissed the achievements of 2,925 of secondary schools.  He really knows how to encourage state teachers.  The press release also implies that talent and imaginative teaching can only be found in free schools and UTCs.  That insults teachers in the 20,303 schools that are not in Mr Gove’s favoured band.
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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 20/10/2011 - 16:10

The press release referred to above was originally published on 10 October 2011 (updated 11 October). Another DfE press release published today (20 October 2011) gives the figures for 2011. According to today's article "academies' GCSE results have improved by more than twice the level of other maintained schools". The statistics show that the percentage of academy pupils achieving 5 or more GCSEs including English and maths rose from 40.6% to 45.9%, an increase of 5.3 percentage points. However, "in all maintained schools the percentage of pupils achieving 5 or more GCSEs including English and maths rose from 55.2% to 57.8%, an increase of 2.6%. Even if the rate of improvement is more for academies, they still on average achieve less than other schools.

As I noted in my original post, the academies start from a lower base so the rate of improvement would be likely to be statistically higher than the rate of improvement for schools with a higher level of achievement. And if next year the same 166 academies included in the figures reach an achievement level which matches the 2011 figures for the other schools (ie 57.8%) then the rate of achievement will still be considerably higher than that of the other schools whose achievement rate may only, say, reach 60%.

Mr Gibb is, however, right to praise the achievements of the 166 academies included in the figures because these were poorly-performing schools. However, it does not follow that the figures show that "autonomy works". Mr Gibb is well aware that all non-academy schools maintained by a local authority have considerable autonomy already. LA "control" is limited to such things as admissions, and legal/administrative support.


Jake's picture
Fri, 21/10/2011 - 09:10

Janet, it appears ironic (to me at least) that in attempting to criticise academies you in fact only end up inadvertantly praising them. The fact that they achieve a rate of progress greater than maintained schools but with very often a more difficult pupil cohort only serves to show that the academy model works very well. Unless you are disputing your own love of stats the figures do indeed show that the academy model works better in relation to the rate of improvement and catch up. Of course they are lower in absolute terms for the very reason you state yourself - the are coming from a low base. So I'm really not sure what the point of your post is? Its a bit of a non-post, like Schrodingers cat, are you saying the academy model is dead or alive - or neither?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 23/10/2011 - 21:28

'the' academy model Jake?

What is 'the' academy model then?

Would that be the one designed for failing schools in difficult areas?
or would that be the one where nothing much changes for students except the LA gets shut down?

There's no way we could actually have any coherent data on the second model is there?

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