House of Commons analysis confirms no evidence of better academies performance

Henry Stewart's picture
Yesterday the authoritative House of Commons Library produced a briefing paper on the performance of the original Labour-created academies. Comparing a range of data between academies and state schools as a whole, this paper is consistent with the results we have shown on this site - that there is no evidence of better performance for academies.

It found that the % of students achieving 5 GCSE A-Cs (including English and Maths) was 12% lower in academies and that this gap widened to 19% when GCSE equivalents were excluded. However academies do have more students with low prior attainment. So the author compares the achievement of similar groups of students:

  • *  For students of low prior attainment, academies do (slightly) less well than all state schools

  • *  For students of middle prior attainment, academies do less well than all state schools

  • *  For students of high prior attainment, academies do (significantly) less well than all state schools

  • *  For disadvantaged pupils' academies do less well than all state schools

  • *  For non-disadvantaged pupils, academies do (significantly) less well than all state schools

The findings are the same as those we found. What is remarkable is the consistency: academies under-perform on virtually every single measure: Out of 15 comparison figures in the table that the above comparisons are taken from, academies are equal on one and worse on 14. Academies do less well for each group of students in terms of % achieving 5 A-Cs (inc English and Maths), for the % making expected progress in English and the % making expected progress in Maths.

The paper does find that academies have shown significant growth in GCSE results. Similar to our findings, they show that for thsoe academies with GCSE results in 2008, they grew their results (% achieving 5 A-Cs with English and Maths) by 19% between 2008 and 2011. However just like our analysis, they find that this is to be expected, given the results they started from. For example, they show that those state schools with the lowest results (under 20%) in 2010 grew these by 11% in just one year in 2011. The DfE's main claim for academies this year has been that its growth in GCSE results has been double that of non-academies. We have shown that when academies are compared to non-academies of similar 2010 results, the growth is the same for both.

The only concessions to the pro-academy argument that the House of Commons paper makes is to quote the PriceWaterhouseCooper reports into academies. However the latest of these is based on results from 2007, over four years ago. On the 2011 data the conclusion from this authoritative and impeccable source is clear: there is no evidence that academies perform better, and quite a lot of evidence that they actually perform worse than comparable non-academies.

The confirmation of our analysis should not be a surprise. The Department for Education has already said that it did not deny the accuracy of these statistics (the ones used on this site). This site attracts comments from a fair number of people who support academies. But none have managed to effectively critique the analysis.

So the question remains: Given the huge extra funding poured into these early academies, why did they not perform better than other schools? Given the lack of any evidence in the 2011 results that academies improve performance, why is Mr Gove forcing through a mass conversion to a type of school for which there is no evidence of benefit to the students who attend them?

Note: The House of Commons Library also produced a report on the more recent Gove converter academies, with a detailed breakdown of their type, location and results.

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Dave Jackson's picture
Wed, 29/02/2012 - 23:29

Always suspected this. Nice to see real evidence. Thanks

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 01/03/2012 - 09:01

The evidence categorically shows that academy conversion is no silver bullet to raise standards. The Government, therefore, should immediately discontinue its dictatorial policy of enforced academy conversion.

PriceWaterhouseCooper concluded as long ago as 2008: “There is insufficient evidence to make a definitive judgement about the Academies as a model for school improvement” and “the process of change was complex and varied and could not be ascribed to a “simple uniform ‘Academy effect’.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Thu, 01/03/2012 - 11:51

Well done, Henry.

I think its important to stress for those who keep claiming 'the jury's still out' that by now the jury should have long ago returned with its verdict that academies make a significant difference which is easily demonstrated.

I say this in the light of the huge sums which have been poured into the academies, the constant denigration of local authority schools and the extent to which this government has made the academy programme the key part of its education policy.

Once again one asks; are there any Liberal Democrats out there and have you any views on this topic?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 01/03/2012 - 12:50

The information about converter academies shows that the selective schools took more advantage of the ability to convert than other types of schools, and grammar schools have a much lower proportion of children on free school meals than other schools. The data shows that converter academies as a whole had a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than average: “The rate at their predecessor schools in 2010 was 9.8% compared to 15.4% across all maintained secondaries.”

It is becoming increasingly difficult to see how the government can keep on saying that academy conversion particularly helps disadvantaged children when its own data shows that converter academies take fewer disadvantaged children.

Charlie Ben-Nathan's picture
Thu, 01/03/2012 - 18:23

The House of Commons analysis ignores the OECD findings that - “Disadvantaged students tend to do worse than expected in disadvantaged schools… and advantaged students tend to do much worse than expected”

The report makes clear that the sponsor academies were overweight in terms of disadvantaged pupils but the authors have not realised what this context implies for expected levels of progress.

We argued about this before and I put forward the idea that given the intakes academies may be doing better than expected. Henry then looked at those with over 40% FSM and convincingly argued that in this case academies were not doing so well, but I would say that implies that the other academies are doing even better.

Of course the picture is incredibly complicated, and it is still too early to see what results from this government's policy of making schools increasingly independent. It should be noted, though, that increased independence won't instantly improve results, it isn't a silver bullet, it is what is done with that increased independence that counts.

What should happen is that academies will have undertaken various different approaches to their school management and all schools should take note of what has worked well in those academies that we know have been extremely successful.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 01/03/2012 - 18:55

Charlie would you also accept that some academies might also take note of what works well in the thousands of extremely successful maintained schools. The DFE data makes it perfectly clear that no school, or type of school, has a monopoly on success. It is very sad that the government doesn't feel able to publicly celebrate the success of non academy schools which still educate the majority of children in this country and according to its own performance tables offer many examples of outstanding management and progress.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 02/03/2012 - 07:03

PISA also said:

"If children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds cannot attend high-performing schools because of financial constraints, then school systems that offer parents more choice of schools for their children will necessarily be less effective in improving the performance of all students".

This was back in 2009 before Academy expansion took hold and the notion of "choice" was inflated by the Coalition and pro-Academy supporters to mask the fact that new education policies would inevitably favour the already advantaged. The question has always been - and always will be - how you ensure equal access to excellent education for everyone regardless of background or ability.

The emphasis that we should learn and implement from the the good practices of a handful of successul academies is rather meaningless, given that long before Academies were imposed on the educational landscape, there were plenty of successful and high performing community and maintained schools which were - and still are! - examples of how schools could improve and stay improved. Under LA stewardship, these best practices could be shared easily and with a sense of collective good.

The challenge actually is how to scale up and implement successful models - whether individual or chain - when schools serve different student intakes, different challenges and with different levels of financial and operational resources. Focusing on "what we can learn" from KIPP or ARK appears to reveal that these well endowed chains have questionable attrition or exclusion levels but, more importantly, their "success" may well prove impossible to replicate in schools starved of cash, resources and a diversity of student intake. KIPP has massive reserves of cash - thanks to philanthropy - so its unique advantages have not scaled up across the US

Charlie Ben-Nathan's picture
Thu, 01/03/2012 - 19:05

Of course, any school would be mad not to and I imagine successful academies have done. No school is inventing education from scratch. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 01/03/2012 - 21:03

The PwC 2008 report found that where academies made improvements they were using the same methods, including extended days, which could be found in improving LA schools. Improvement does not depend on academy conversion.

Henry Stewart's picture
Thu, 01/03/2012 - 23:29

Charlie, I'm glad you found my analysis useful. But, no, academies with less than 40% FSM don't do better either. This analysis showed, when compared to schools on similar FSM, academies had lower figures than non-academies in each FSM category on both GCSEs and numbers making expected progress:

Charlie Ben-Nathan's picture
Fri, 02/03/2012 - 07:02

Henry, the analysis you link to doesn't seem to compare the progress of those with previous low attainment who attend schools with different levels of FSM which is what we were previously discussing.

Henry Stewart's picture
Sun, 04/03/2012 - 23:14

Charlie, sorry for delay. have now done analysis for those with prior low achievement the % getting 5 A-Cs including english and maths:

FSM 0%-10%: Academies 7%, Non-academies 6%
FSM 10%-20%: Academies 7%, Non-academies 6%
FSM 20%-30%: Academies 6%, Non-academies 8%
FSM 30%-40%: Academies 8%, Non-academies 9%
FSM 40%+: Academies 13%, Non-academies 13%

I'd say thats about even. Though the most interesting pt is that the best place to be if you have 3s at KS2 is a school with a very disadvantaged intake.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 15:33

It appears that the electorate has been deceived about academies since they first began. I discuss it at length in a new post below:

A guest's picture
Fri, 09/03/2012 - 22:18

Henry have you seen this.
Gove warns against sitting GCSEs early. (BBC -

In the report of the research it shows that pupils in academies/CTCs were much more likely to be early entrants in both English and Maths. Gove did not highlight this fact


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