DfE Press Release Condemns Academies Performance

Henry Stewart's picture
Now there is a little poetic licence in this headline. The press release didn't directly criticise academy performance. But it is implicit in its initial paragraph:

"Thousands of pupils are missing out on the opportunity to study the core academic subjects, new figures reveal today."

What the data reveals is that the schools in which students are most likely to miss out on those "core academic subjects" are academies. So if the DfE is criticising schools for students who miss out in this way, its strongest condemnation is of academies. Let us look at the points the press release highlighted:

"137 schools where no pupils were entered for geography GCSE
57 schools where no pupils were entered for history GCSE"

The released data doesn't break down separately by Geography and History but does give figures for humanities as a whole:

Academies: 31% of students take a qualifying humanities GCSE
Non-academies: 50% of students take a qualifying humanities GCSE

"30 schools where no pupils were entered for a modern language GCSE"

Academies: 22% of students take a modern language
Non-academies: 40% of students take a modern language

"516 schools where no pupils were entered for any of the individual science GCSEs"

Academies: 43% of students take an "English baccalaureate Science subject"
Non-academies: 60% of students take an "English baccalaureate Science subject"

Now this may be an unfair comparison, as it may be in the schools in the most disadvantaged areas where students are less likely to take the English Baccalaureate subjects (which is exactly what the DfE is unhappy about) and academies have a higher proportion in the most disadvantaged areas. So let's compare schools of similar levels of disadvantage:

This example is for modern languages but exactly the same pattern takes place for languages and science. Of comparable schools, students are less likely to take the "core academic subjects" if they are in an academy. This shouldn't be surprising. We know from the Daily Telegraph and from the data, that academies achieve their results from the non-academic qualifications (Btecs etc) that Gove derides.

Interestingly the relation to disadvantage isn't clear. Although students are most likely to do languages in schools with less than 10% free school meals, they are more likely to do them in the schools with more than 40% FSM than in those with between 20% and 40%.

Now I do question whether the focus on the English Baccalaureate is right, and whether all students should do the ebacc. But there is a clear contradiction in the DfE approach. On the one hand, they are criticising schools which don't put students through "core academic subjects" and on the other hand they are claiming success for academies, even though any extra growth in results is entirely based on these non-academic subjects.

If the DfE is condemning those schools that don't give enough students the opportunity to study "core academic subjects" then it has issued a thorough condemnation of academies, for it is in academies that students are least likely to study these subjects.
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Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 15:37

You're right, Henry, the writers of the latest DfE press release don't realise the implications of the Department's own evidence. The press release reads as a relentless attack on English secondary schools particularly those with disadvantaged pupils. A spectacular own goal, I think, as it's academies more than other schools which aren't entering pupils for the core subjects. Yet schools minister, Nick Gibb, still used the data to plug academy conversion:

"We want to create good schools for all, by expanding the Academies programme to give more schools real freedoms over how they are run, recruiting the best graduates into teaching, and restoring order in the classroom."

Notice how Nick Gibb conflates academy conversion, freedoms, recruitment and discipline. Does he really think think that non-academies don't have sufficient autonomy to recruit the best graduates? Does he believe that every non-academy secondary school is a den of indiscipline? And does he not realise that UK schools already had autonomy over resources and staff recruitment, and English secondary schools could decide which courses and exams to offer, irrespective of whether they're academies or not? (Well, perhaps he does realise that last point, but doesn't want the public to know that the much-hyped "autonomy" includes schools taking on more administrative and legal tasks and have the possibility of joining with an academy chain which could lead them with fewer freedoms than they previously enjoyed).


Dave Jackson's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 15:38

Thanks for drawing attention to this . Everything seems stacked against Local Authority schools. The Academies have been getting away with allsorts of what could be described in the kindest way as "spin" but amounts in many ways to undemocratic manipulation at the expense of the majority of students.

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