2011 GCSEs: What the data tells us about academies and non-academies

Henry Stewart's picture
At the end of January the Department for Education published a massive amount of information, 208 items of data on GCSE results for every school in England. This makes it possible for the first time to carry out a full analysis of how academies and non-academies compare. And, despite all the claims of government supporters, there is no evidence of better GCSE performance in academies.

The first thing to watch out for is the practice of policy-making by anecdote. Academy supporters have a tendency to focus on schools like Mossbourne and Burlington Dane, or the ARK chain. These are the best performing academies but the fact that these have done well does not mean academies as a whole have done well (though it would be good to study and learn from these schools, as from high-performing non-academies).

The government tends to quote growth figures for academies, which generally look impressive. However the analysis below shows two faults in this. First, schools in disadvantaged areas have generally done well. When academies are compared to similar schools, there is no clear pattern of extra growth. Further when GCSE equivalents (like Btecs) are removed the academy growth is generally less than in non-academies.

These are the key Local Schools Network posts analysing the data released by the DfE on the 2011 GCSE results, and comparing the performance of academies and non-academies:

Did academies grow more in 2011? Not when compared to similar schools

The main Dfe claim about growth from 2010 to 2011 in the GCSE results of academies, that it was twice that of non-academies, does not stack up when they are compared to similar schools.

Sir Michael Wilshaw is right: Most outstanding schools are not academies

The evidence shows Sir Michael is right on two counts: most outstanding schools are not academies and many schools in disadvantaged areas are doing amazing work.

DfE Press Release condemns academies performance

The DfE criticism of schools where few students take academic subjects is, above all, a condemnation of academies

DfE data shows success of local schools

The last three years has seen a transformation in the performance of schools in the most disadvantaged areas, with % achieving 5 GCSEs including English and Maths rising from 35% to 50%.

Established academies: still no evidence of better performance

The DfE argues that a fairer comparison would be with academies that are at least 5 years old. The evidence shows that these also perform no better than comparable non-academies.

Academy chains: No case for expansion

The record of the academy chains is poor and gives no basis for expansion.

"Failing schools": Do academies do better?

The answer is No. Even with this group, they fare better as LA schools.

Students with low prior achievement: Inner city London comprehensives do best

Nationally only 6.5% of students of 'low prior achievement' get 5 A-Cs including English and Maths. Inner London schools do over twice as well, with Hackney achieving 22% and Tower Hamlets 23%.

Academies: The evidence of underperformance

When compared to comparable schools (in terms of levels of disadvantage), the data show academies under-perform on a range of criteria.


The above analysis was used as the basis of an article in the Observer on 26th February. Crucially it states " DfE spokesman did not deny the accuracy of the statistics"

Sources outside Local Schools Network

Liberal Conspiracy: Why more academies will make education worse

Anti-Academies Alliance: GCSEs, academies and disadvantage: a higher standard of government misinformation

Note: This is a reference page, and further links will be added to make this an easy-to-use link to all the 2011 GCSE data analysis. The date of publication is updated to keep it prominent.

Data Notes: The Academies  figure, throughout these posts, refers to the category of sponsor-led academies, of which there are 249. It does not include the ‘converter academies’, of which there were just 25 at this point. Non-academies include those classified as community, foundation, CTCs or voluntary aided schools, 2,681 in total. Special schools are not included.)

Data sources: The DfE data release can be obtained here:


Some people have found it difficult to download this file. If you have difficulty, feel free to email me on henry@happy.co.uk and I will send you a copy of the file. The above analysis was generally done in Excel with Pivot tables.










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Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 07/02/2012 - 08:31

Figures from the Department for Education confirm Henry's analysis. A chart* gives the percentage of pupils in different types of state secondary school achieving the benchmark of 5+ GCSEs A*-C or equivalent including Maths and English. This shows:

Comprehensives 57.8%
Selective 98.7%
Modern 50.8%
Academy (sponsor) 46.8%
Academy (convertor) 77.1%

Sponsored academies were set up to tackle underachievement and raise standards, and there have been high-profile successes like Mossbourne. But the good results achieved at these successful academies are insufficient to raise the overall percentage of pupils gaining the benchmark GCSEs in sponsored academies as a group.

These figures show that academy conversion is not a magic bullet which will automatically raise standards. And they also show that those people Mr Gove attacks as being "enemies of promise" because they oppose academy conversion may actually have a point.

*page 4 Stats First Release

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 07/02/2012 - 08:55

The DfE figures also show the results of stripping out exams deemed "equivalent" (ie vocational type exams). A chart* looks at the number of pupils in each type of school achieving 5+ GCSEs A*-C (any subject combination, not necessarily including Maths and English). The first column below shows the percentage with equivalents, the second column shows GCSEs only including GCSE short courses.

Comprehensives: 81.2% 54.9%
Selective: 99.2% 98.9%
Modern: 78.5% 45%
All academies 82.6% 39.4%

These figures show that academies are relying more on the equivalent examinations than other types of school. (NB the figure for academies includes converter academies which had converted on or before 12 September 2010. Converter academies were previously designated "outstanding" or "good".)

*page 6 Stats First Release linked above

Guest's picture
Tue, 07/02/2012 - 09:23


Thanks for this. It really illustrates the dumbing down and all must have prizes attitude and ethos that occurred under Labour. It looks like all schools apart from private and selective bought into this.
It is great that the current Government are bringing emphasising academic rigour.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 07/02/2012 - 12:02

Would you agree then that the 'academy effect' is overstated once the curriculum changes have been factored in?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 12/02/2012 - 09:12

What is academic rigour Guest?

My students achieved outstanding results in maths, for example, because I and other worked on creating lessons and curricula which engaged them and creating choices for them which were relevant to their futures and allowed them to plan coherently into their futures. Once they were following a path into life which was meaningful for them and they felt like their maths lessons were in touch with what they could do and took them on from their they tended to knuckle down and drive for their exams and deliver great results.

Is that academic rigour or is that dumbing down? I'm curious as to what you think. It sounds like it's dumbing down because I actively drew on students visions of themselve and inspiration from their vocations subjects. I'm also curious to know how you would inspire deprived cohorts with substantial behavioural issues to deliver outstanding maths grades while forcing them to choose courses they didn't want to do and they felt were irrelevant to their future?

Do you fully understand the difference being forced to study French instead of allowing a child to choose Health and Social care will make and the many opportunities the latter qualification allows that child to picture themselves in different futures and meet people who are working in them and to repeatedly see the importance of their maths GCSE?

Perhaps you think that 16-years-olds should be 'kept young' and more fully forced to learn to do what they're told instead of taking responsibility for preparing themselves for their futures? I understand there are people who feel this way but though they were only in Dickens' books?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 07/02/2012 - 11:59

Academies were established to raise attainment and help disadvantaged pupils. City Technology Colleges (CTC) were designated academies and The Guardian named one of these, Thomas Telford School, Shropshire, as being the best-performing comprehensive school in England . But a look at the Department for Education (DfE) schools performance tables shows that the 2011 cohort did not have a fully-comprehensive intake. There were only two low attaining pupils (1%) in the 2011 cohort while 110 (67%) were high-attainers. 26 of the cohort (16%) were disadvantaged pupils and 96% of these reached the benchmark of 5+ GCSEs including Maths and English. On the face of it the school is doing a good job in raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. However, these were likely to have been middle or high attaining pupils.

This shows the difficulty in using data to discover how well schools raise the achievement of disadvantaged pupils. The figures need to be viewed together with the intake of a school.



Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 07/02/2012 - 12:47

Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, used the school performance tables to attack schools. “Today’s figures reveal a shocking waste of talent in many schools across the country. All too often, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds aren’t given the same opportunities as their peers.”

The OECD has warned that the academy and free schools programme needs careful monitoring if it is not to increase the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged pupils. Yet the Government aggressively promotes this policy even when the evidence does not support an automatic link between academy status and raised results.

Mr Gibb said, “But there are great examples of schools achieving the best for their disadvantaged pupils. If they can get it right, then so can all schools”. He then highlighted 21 schools which had more than 10 disadvantaged pupils where 80% reached the benchmark of 5+ GCSEs including Maths and English. What he didn’t say, however, was how many of these 21 schools are grammar schools or schools, like Thomas Telford mentioned above, which are comprehensive in name only and have an intake heavily skewed towards the top end.


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 12/02/2012 - 09:14

Sounds like Gibb deserves one of these too:

Adrian Elliott's picture
Tue, 14/02/2012 - 12:17

The article by Fiona in today's Guardian which draws on Henry's research is excellent. Interestingly,at least when I last looked, not a single poster below the article has attempted to argue against the evidence .

Most are supportive,one or two have entirely missed the point and one or two others throw the usual Twitter style personal abuse.

But the regular state school bashers have remained remarkably quiet.

Guest's picture
Tue, 14/02/2012 - 13:36


The posters in the guardian are Fiona, Melissa benn, Alan Bravia and Janet Downes. Of course they are not going to disagree with the data produced on an anti academies website. What would be the point?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 26/02/2012 - 13:10

Do the people behind the local schools network have an anti-academies website? Where's that?

I thought they only had this one - where the kind of free debate about policy which is prevented on other major education discussion forums is allowed?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 26/02/2012 - 13:40

Rebecca - I think Guest meant that the Local Schools Network is an anti-academies website. That's probably because many of the comments debunk Government propaganda about academy conversion being a silver bullet to raise standards.

Henry Stewart's picture
Sun, 26/02/2012 - 19:58

Rebecca, No I don't see this as an anti-academies web site although the Observer article today used that term. We are in favour of good local schools and support teachers and students doing great work - and many of those local schools are academies, facing the same challenges as non-academies. One of our founders did indeed argue on this site in favour of his local school becoming an academy.

What we are against is the government trying to impose one model onto schools and communities, whether they want it or not. We will also seek to expose any dubious claims made for academies and we are suspicious of where this is leading - especially given the debate starting on the right about privitisation in education.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 26/02/2012 - 14:10

Is it an anti-academies website?

Are there any pro-academies websites? I think even those major education discussion forums which systematically get rid of contributors who express coherent criticism of this government's policy are struggling to express a pro-academies line.

Could someone point me to a discussion forum where there is substantial credible support for the new academies, free schools or this government's reforms to Ofsted? I'd be surprised to find one as they are so overwhelmingly despised by teachers.

A guest's picture
Mon, 27/02/2012 - 21:56

Henry, are you aware of any verified information about how much money academies and free schools are getting per pupil. I would like to see this so that it would be possible to see whether it is a fair playing field when you are making your academies/ non academies comparisons. My gut feeling( and I am happy to be proved wrong!) is that maybe they are more generously funded but I cannot see the data anywhere.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 14/02/2012 - 15:53

I don't think anyone can disagree with the data as it was produced by the Department for Education. Maybe Guest is suggested that the DfE has suddenly become an anti-academies website. Last time I looked (about 5 mins ago) the Department was still pushing the "Academies Work" propaganda. This statement looks a bit silly now in the light of the Department's own statistics.

There were 60 comments below the Guardian's article - Guest seems to be suggesting that four people are responsible for them all.



Adrian Elliott's picture
Tue, 14/02/2012 - 16:19

'There were 60 comments below the Guardian’s article – Guest seems to be suggesting that four people are responsible for them all.'

Exactly. In any case, the key point is not how many people approve or disapprove of a piece it is the fact that no one has challenged Henry Stewart's figures. Yet if they are correct education ministers have repeatedly misled the public and parliament in recent months about the performance of academies.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 14/02/2012 - 17:02

Messrs Gove and Gibb and their twittering advisers at the DfE have been deceiving the electorate since the Coalition came to power. Repeated threads on this site highlight this deception - these include the continued use of the discounted 2000 UK PISA figures; propaganda about the ability of academies to raise standards while ignoring the similar, if not better, performance of non-academy schools; and ignoring anything positive about English education (eg TIMSS 2007, the recent Eurydice reports on Maths and reading). Mr Gove's attendance at an international summit for high-performing countries was not reported widely because it would have made him look stupid if it became known that he, who continually slates English state education, accepted an invitation to speak at a meeting of top-performing education systems.

Mr Gove is becoming increasingly like the emperor with new clothes. And, as Lord Griffiths of Burry Port said, "Such men are dangerous."


Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 28/02/2012 - 18:19

Reply to a guest above - the school performance tables 2011 don't give the spend per pupils for academies. It is only available for non-academies so we can't make a comparison. If spend per pupil is to be a useful measure then the figures should be available for all state-funded schools.

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