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.