School Minister Nick Gibb: “There is also strong evidence (including … PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2008) of the benefits, in terms of raised standards, of secondary schools becoming academies.”
Isn’t a report, published in 2008, rather out-of-date? Yes, it is, but that didn’t stop Nick Gibb from using it on 31 January
to justify academy conversion. So, what did the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report
say about academies and improvement?
1. The report considered only 27 academies. Three had previously been City Technology Colleges (CTCs) so were not used to compare attainment. Achievement analysis was based on the results of just 24 academies.
2. Although there had been positive overall progress in securing improvements in performance, this was not uniform across all measures of achievement.
3. Many academies performed better than the national average for progress from Key Stage 2 to GCSE when the background and previous attainment of the pupils was taken into account. This was less true for progress from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3.
4. When English and Maths was taken into account, the rates of progress were “less substantial” although higher than the England average. (The rate of progress, however, is calculated from a lower base.)
5. The researchers found “considerable diversity across individual Academies in the levels and improvements achieved.”
6. Some Academies had used vocational courses to boost improvement more quickly. This was at the expense of ensuring a “broad and balanced curriculum” in some cases.
7. Where academies were improving, they were using similar methods to those found in improving LA schools. Outstanding leaders and stability in leadership were “critical” to improve standards. Sponsorship and new school buildings were seen as positive factors.
8. While 80% of academies provided extended programmes of instruction, most LA maintained schools also offered extended days and extra-curricular activities.
9. Ofsted found that teaching and learning was variable in academies. This was attributed to inexperienced middle management and a relatively high percentage of teachers without qualified teacher status (QTS).
The researchers concluded “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’”.
This conclusion seems to have been missed by the Government which continues to promote academy conversion as the only way to raise standards. Yet the PwC report found that where academies made improvements they were using the same methods, including extended days, which could be found in improving LA schools. And converter academies are not sponsored ones so the benefits of sponsorship, if any, will not apply.
Write 100 lines, Mr Gibb, from the PwC conclusion about promoting academies as a model for school improvement:
There is insufficient evidence… There is insufficient evidence…
Then a further 100 summarising the PwC observation about improving schools, whether academies or not:
When schools improve, they all use similar methods…
And then do something really useful and commission research into what these “similar methods” are.