Academy conversion “turned around” more struggling schools than the actual number of academies, according to the DfE

Janet Downs's picture
"Academies have already turned around hundreds of struggling schools across the country and are improving their results at twice the national average rate,” a spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) told the BBC. Does this claim stack up?

In May 2010 there were just over 200 sponsored academies. Yet the DfE says that “hundreds” of schools have been rescued. Even if every single of the 200+ academies did well, and they didn’t, that would not equal “hundreds”.

Some of these 200+ academies raised results but many did not, as PriceWaterhouseCooper (PwC) and the National Audit Office (NAO) pointed out in their reports in 2008 and 2010.

The argument that academies are improving faster than the national average is weak. Channel 4 FactCheck reminded readers that the percentage rate of improvement was calculated from a lower base. FactCheck cited the NAO which found that even if academies were compared with similar schools the difference in the rates of improvement between the academies and comparable schools was tiny.

The DfE spokesperson also said, "We consider the strong external challenge and support from an Academy sponsor to be the best way to improve schools that are consistently underperforming.” But NAO warned there was a risk that sponsors could put pressure on their academies to buy services from them. The Sutton Trust had raised concerns about potential conflict of interest when sponsors were also service providers as early as 2008. This conflict of interest is likely to increase as many of the sponsors turn out to be profit-making education providers.

But perhaps the DfE was referring to the number of schools that had been sponsored by academies – perhaps being paired with an academy raised results in the sponsored schools? Not so, the NAO found little evidence that such collaboration was taking place.

Evidence that academy conversion does not automatically result in higher standards is stacking up. The Government is beginning to sound increasingly hysterical in its support of academies. It underpins its propaganda with inflated claims, misinformation and dismissing any opposition as being “bigoted backward bankrupt ideology.”

DfE propaganda is undermined by the Department’s school performance data, and statements made by Mr Gove about the benefits of conversion are not upheld by evidence. And yet the DfE keeps insisting that “Academies Work”. The Government is treating the electorate, particularly parents, as fools.

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