Most Outstanding Schools are not Academies

Henry Stewart's picture
Don't take our word for it. That is the view of Sir Michael Wilshaw, founding head of Mossbourne Academy and now Chief Inspector of Ofsted. Writing in the Guardian last week he said:

"Last year alone 85 schools serving the most deprived communities in our society were judged to be providing outstanding education. ... let me be clear: the vast majority of these schools are not academies. They are simply schools with heads and staff focused on the right things, striving every day to provide the best possible education for their young people."

Michael Gove and the government's supporters seem only interested in showcasing school success if it is in an academy. He described those who oppose conversion to academies as "enemies of progress". The impression is left that the non-academies do less well than academies and that schools in deprived communities have a poor record.

Non academies have higher proportion of good and outstanding schools 

The contrast with Sir Michael is interesting. Wilshaw appears to be interested in what actually enables children to succeed, rather than a partisan focus on one policy whatever the evidence. As Head of Ofsted he knows the data, and he makes clear that most successful schools have not been academies and also that many schools in deprived areas - and this is a very important message to hear - are delivering outstanding education. Sir Michael may have started with the Ofsted annual report for 2010-11, which gives the ratings on schools inspected that year:

Academies: 53% Good or Outstanding
All schools: 57% Good or Outstanding

Indeed taking all schools (including those inspected in previous years), 70% were rated Good or Outstanding. This is backed by the data released by the DfE. My previous post showed that, when you compared academies to non-academies of similar deprivation, academies performed worse. That post looked at academies' relative performance in getting 5 A-Cs including English and Maths (with and without GCSE equivalents) and the % making expected progress in Maths and English, and found they consistently did worse than non-academies. The picture gets even more interesting when you look at performance of the most disadvantaged students.

Where do disadvantaged children do best?


These charts show two remarkable things about which schools children on free school meals (FSM) do best in, both of which support Sir Michaels' statements. First, they consistently make greater progress in both English and Maths in non-academies than in academies.

Second, and this goes against a very wide conventional wisdom, our poorest children do best in schools in disadvantaged areas. (eg, in a comment to a previous post Charlie Ben-Nathan pointed out this was very much the view of the OECD in their PISA research.) There is a popular image of sink schools in permanent failure in deprived areas. In contrast, as Wilshaw stated, there are many amazing schools in deprived areas, with dedicated staff securing great results for their students. Indeed they achieve better results from the poorest children than schools in more affluent areas.

Of the schools with more than 40% on free school meals, where over 70% of FSM students achieve expected progress in English. 13 are academies and 47 are not. It is tragic that none of these non-academy success stories will be celebrated by the Department for Education. Let's hear it for Bethnal Green Technology College, Mulberry School, St Marylebone, Woodside High, Loxford, Holyhead and Waverley - in all of which over 90% of FSM students made that progress in English.

This same pattern shows in the key criteria of 5 A-Cs including English and Maths:

Once again non-academies outperform academies (in 4 of the 5 categories) and children on free school meals do best in schools in the more deprived areas. I would have liked to plot this data without GCSE equivalents as well, but that data doesn't seem to be included for FSM students. However, as the Telegraph revealed last week, it is academies that are more likely to 'inflate results with easy qualifications'.

The Telegraph accurately noted that the average drop across all schools, when GCSE equivalents were excluded, was 6% but the proportion of students in academies getting 5 GCSEs (including English and Maths) dropped from 50.1% to 38.3%, dropping twice the national average, when equivalents were excluded.

Mr Gove and his supporters are fond of quoting Mossbourne and academies from the Ark group (such as Burlington Danes) as evidence that academies can transform eduction. Sir Michael Wilshaw was, of course, Education Director of Ark group as well as being head of Mossbourne. A conclusion better suited to the data is that Wilshaw has a remarkable effect on those schools he is associated with, but academies as a whole don't perform as well as other state schools.

Schools like Mossbourne are doing genuinely great work and should be celebrated. But, as Sir Michael points out, there are many more outstanding schools to celebrate doing amazing work in our most deprived areas - and most are not (or were not until the last year) academies.

Data postscript: Reference to academies here is to the category of "sponser-led academies". It does not include the separate category of "converter academies", of which there were only 25 in the data. Some of the schools listed have since become academies, but were not at the point they got these results.
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Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 06/02/2012 - 09:50

The National Audit Office (NAO) would support Henry's assessment. The 2010 NAO report about academies pointed out that, although the performance of academy pupils in challenging circumstances (those eligible for free schools meals, children who speak English as an additional language or pupils with special educational needs) had improved over time, “the attainment gap between these pupils and others has grown wider in academies than in maintained schools with similar intakes”. NAO concluded that it had been the less disadvantaged pupils who appeared to benefit more immediately from improved standards at an academy. Academies, therefore, had been less successful in improving the results of the disadvantaged pupils that academies had been set up to help.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 06/02/2012 - 10:31

The 2011 LSE report found that the quality of intake in the academies they surveyed had improved on conversion. This would explain the improved results of the academy when compared with the predecessor schools which had a lower quality intake.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 06/02/2012 - 10:41

Henry’s analysis shows that academy conversion is not a magic bullet for raising attainment, particularly of disadvantaged pupils. OECD has suggested ways in which schools can help raise the attainment of such children but none point to academy conversion as being a possible answer. Instead, OECD warned that “current proposals for academies and Free Schools may actually increase the correlations between socio-economic background and the quality of school resources… The impact of these reforms therefore needs to be closely monitored.”*

OECD found that globally “Disadvantaged students tend to do worse than expected in disadvantaged schools… and advantaged students tend to do much worse than expected [in schools with a large proportion of disadvantaged pupils]” The OECD highlighted several factors which could contribute to the negative impact of disadvantage on pupil performance. Some of these factors, such as language spoken at home, were found to pertain to the UK, while other factors, such as family composition, were ruled out.

However, OECD pointed out there were “resilient” children who succeeded despite their disadvantage. It suggested ways which could improve the results of disadvantaged children such as increasing “learning time” and developing activities, classroom practices and teaching methods that encourage learning and foster motivation and self-confidence”.

OECD also found that globally the most successful school systems tend to be those that are most equitable – they do not segregate pupils according to ability or socially. These systems have a narrower gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils.

*p103 Reforming Education in England, in OECD Economic Surveys: UK 2011, not available freely on line

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