Minister cites report which didn’t unconditionally endorse academies – has he actually read it?

Janet Downs's picture
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Isn’t a report, published in 2008, rather out-of-date?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.

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A guest's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 16:35

Academy school results 'inflated'

This article on the BBC site is worth reading since it confirms point 6.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 17:26

This is a key section from the BBC story on Dr.Wrigley's report about 'academies using vocational courses to boost improvement more quickly' .

In all maintained schools, 59.1% of pupils got five good GCSEs including English and maths, including equivalents.

But when equivalents were not included, it dropped to 53.2% - a gap of nearly six percentage points.

For academies, 50.1% got the benchmark if equivalents were included in the figures, but without equivalents it dropped to 38.3%.

This is nearly the double the gap for all state schools.

Dr Wrigley also looked at how disadvantaged pupils performed in academies and in maintained schools.

He says: "Nationally, Nick Gibb complains that only 33.9% of disadvantaged pupils achieved five A* to C grade GCSEs including English and maths, compared to the national average of 58.2% in maintained schools.

"Around half of academies did worse than this, and many would have fallen below the proportion if they hadn't made extensive use of 'equivalent' qualifications that the government is about to abolish as suspect."

Fascinatingly, the DfE spokesperson respond that it was because the early academies,replacing failing schools, were 'concentrating on the basics,

But I thought the whole point about vocational equivalents being ditched is that they don't represent the basics which was why the good old Ebacc was brought in!

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 04/02/2012 - 14:48

The report listed challenges to the government in managing the future Academies programme. These include:

1 "ensuring fair and equitable access for all pupils, and particularly those from
disadvantaged backgrounds for whom the programme was originally intended"

How this "fair and equitable access" will be achieved in selective areas where grammar academies can increase the pupil numbers without consultation and with little consideration of the effect on neighbouring schools is unclear.

2 "ensuring that the profile and attainment of schools which are not Academies is equally high on the policy agenda"

This "challenge" is being met by the Government in the following ways:

(a) By airbrushing non-academy schools from the main pages of the DfE website. You will find no videos or testimonials for community schools - only pages of propaganda about academies and free schools.
(b) By rubbishing non-academy schools while pouring praise over academies and free schools.
(c) By attacking those who have qualms about academy conversion - calling them "enemies of promise" and so on.

I'm not sure that these tactics are what PwC had in mind when it reminded the Government to give equal attention of non-academies.

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