Established Academies: Still No Evidence of Better Performance

Henry Stewart's picture
My previous posts indicate that, contrary to government claims, academies do no better than other state schools and in some comparisons do worse. The Department for Education (DfE) press office response has been to state the analysis is unfair because some of the academies converted very recently and so the figures could reflect their previous status. They suggested a fair comparison would be one in which, for the students taking GCSEs last year, they will have had their entire secondary experience in the Academy.

The DfE has kindly supplied data on the dates at which each school became an academy. There are 46 schools which had become academies by 2006 and so had held that status for five years by last summer. We know that academies are more likely to use GCSE equivalents (such as BTECs) and so I have compared them on the GCSE-only measure, with schools of similar levels of disadvantage:

Comparing Established Academies, Created Five Years or More Ago

Now these academies have had millions of pounds, often tens of millions, spent on them. But there is no evidence of better performance. In two of the three categories the non-academies perform better, in one the academies do slightly better. Is this the evidence on which thousands of schools across the country are being encouraged or forced to become academies?

Now some will say that academies have done well to draw level, or nearly level, with non-academies as it was the worst performing schools who tended to be converted. So let's compare the increase in schools where in 2008 (the earliest years for which figures are provided in the DfE data) the % achieving 5 GCSEs including English and Maths was below 35%.

Let us focus on that one category in which academies were slightly ahead, the most disadvantaged schools, those with more than 40% on free school meals (FSM).

Comparing Schools with GCSE Results Below 35% in 2008

Now this is an interesting comparison. Faced with poorly performing schools in areas of high disadvantage some local authorities choose to convert to academies, partly encouraged by the high levels of funding provided by central government. Some decided instead to use their own more limited resources and seek to improve them as local authority schools.

The academies did indeed improve strongly, going from 23.6% to 42.2% (an increase of 18.6%) in terms of the numbers achieving 5 GCSEs including English and Maths. It is a remarkable turn around.

However exactly the same happened for those schools which were not converted, despite receiving less funding. Their results went from 24.3% to 43.4% (an increase of 19.1%). The non academies did as well and, indeed, very slightly better in their growth.

Those figures include equivalents. If we remove equivalents, we find again that non academies did slightly better (30.6% against 28.4% getting the 5 GCSEs including English and Maths).

Conclusion: Established Academies Do No Better

We are in the midst of a massive experiment in the education of our children. Billions of pounds have been spent on the academy model, in the belief that it will provide better schools and better results. However, when the DfE data is examined in detail, the evidence disappears. Despite the massive amounts spent, non academies have performed at least as well.

That is the real success story that should be being told. Schools in our most deprived areas are recording huge improvements and it makes little difference whether they are academies or not. Indeed, given the massive investment in the academy programme, it is remarkable that non-academies come anywhere near to doing as well as academies never mind - as the data indicates - do a little bit better.

Data Notes

In previous posts I have divided the schools into five levels by disadvantage. I have used just three here because of the smaller numbers involved. (On the old division one of the categories would have included only 1 academy.)

The other FSM ranges (for schools with less than 35% 5 A-C EM in 2008) show a similar pattern as the 40%+ FSM category examined here. For 20%-40% FSM, results in both academies and non academies grew by 16% between 2008 and 2011. Both fell back by 12% when equivalents were taken out. For 0%-20%, results for both types of school again grew by 16% between 2088 and 2011 but the sample is very small - just 3 academies.

As the GCSE data in the DfE data release starts in 2008, I did want to go on to analyse the performance of academies created in 2008. However, for reasons that are unclear, none of these schools have figures for their 2008 GCSE results.
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Leonard James's picture
Tue, 14/02/2012 - 23:35

Interesting. I'd like to take a closer look at the raw data, there is a link to the FSM %, school type and GCSE results of all the schools I presume?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 08:20

Leonard - you presume correctly. You'll find data re school performance linked to school type, FSM and so on at the DfE Statistics gateway:

Henry Stewart's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 09:04

Leonard, I'm now working on a spreadsheet that combines the individual-school data, which I found via the Guardian web site:, with data on academies & when they were founded from here:

I'm happy to email over the source spread-sheet, to you or anybody else who is interested. Contact me at

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 08:55

There is now a huge amount of data available on the DfE website including detailed statistical analysis of how schools performed by type of school, FSM intake, ability intake and so on. Henry performed a mammoth task in analysing the information. Why, then, are the policy makers at the DfE not doing the same? The data is there - they are ignoring it. They are still pushing the "Academies Work" agenda - it's on the DfE homepage.

I wonder if the DfE propaganda is against the Trades Description Act. And what about the Advertising Standards Authority - would they ask the DfE to withdraw its adverts for academies now they've demolished by evidence?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 09:18

Warnings about viewing academy conversion as a "magic bullet" were made in the PriceWaterhouseCooper report 2008 and the National Audit Office 2010 (see link below for discussion). Channel 4 Factcheck has twice looked at Government statements about academies - the last one said that statements by ministers about academies should be greeted with a healthy dose of scepticism.

But still the DfE is insisting that "Academies Work". It is forcing schools judged to be failing to convert. Note that word "forcing" - this is what dictators do, not democratically elected politicians.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 13:38

An article in the Guardian on 14 February argues that the hasty conversion of schools to "independent" academies is motivated by the desire to make it easy for private education providers to profit from the billions of pounds of taxpayers' money spent on state education in England. This ruse was suggested in "Blocking the Best", a report co-authored by Rachel Wolf, director of the New Schools Network, the organisation which helps groups to establish free schools. It was endorsed by Michael Gove (see second link below) - that's why he's so keen on pushing the "Academies Work" propaganda on the DfE website. And it's also why he was contacting profit-making education providers well before the last election (see third link below).

It's thanks to Henry and people like him that the truth about academy conversion is coming to light.

We know that the NHS isn't safe in the Government's hands. Now it appears that English state education isn't either.

Leonard James's picture
Fri, 17/02/2012 - 08:16

I've had a play with some the data but a couple of things concern me namely sources for GCSE results - all from same spreadsheet I presume?

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