The first three academies, Business Academy, Greig City, and Unity City were opened in 2002. In 2005, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) told potential sponsors:
“In 2003, their first year, the average 5+ A*-C results in the three open Academies was 24%, compared to an average of 16% in their predecessor schools in the previous year .”
But one of these academies, Unity City, had a fall in results from 17% to 16%. And the average in the predecessor schools was 21% not 16%. Unity City failed Ofsted twice: in 2005 and 2006. The Business Academy was rated unsatisfactory overall by Ofsted in 2005 and issued with a Notice to Improve. When it was next inspected in 2007, it was rated satisfactory.
By 2005, then, only one of the first academies, Greig City, had been found by Ofsted to be improving rapidly and given a “good” rating. But this didn’t stop the DfES from talking up academy success.
As early as 2005 politicians were publishing misleading and inaccurate information about academies. However, the Commons Education Committee wasn’t convinced. They accused the then Government of promoting schemes which had not been properly evaluated. The committee recommended that the estimated £5bn funding for academies should be withheld until they were shown to be cost-effective. In the same year, the first assessment of academies by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) presented a mixed picture of their success. The Education Network criticised the then Government for its “disingenuous interpretation of the [PwC] data” and accused Ministers of deceiving the public.
In 2007 the Public Accounts Committee recognised that “Academic results have improved faster in academies than in other schools” but said it was too early to say whether this is because of extra cash, enthusiastic new teachers, or because of the academy freedoms. The committee concluded that non-academy schools would be as likely to do as well if they were given the same funding.
The 2008 PwC report concluded that there was “insufficient evidence to make a definitive judgement about the Academies as a model for school improvement.” In 2009, a University of Birmingham report which looked at academies established between 2002 and 2007 found that “there is no clear evidence that Academies produce better results than local authority schools with equivalent intakes.”
In 2010, the new Government extended the academies programme to all good and outstanding schools. In the same year the National Audit Office (NAO) found that many academies had performed “impressively” but noted that Ofsted had judged some academies to be inadequate. It warned that the academies’ performance which was in any case not uniform couldn’t be used to predict how academy conversion would work if it were rolled out more widely. This warning was repeated by the London School of Economics - LSE research into the success of sponsored academies couldn’t be applied to converter academies or primary schools. Channel 4 FactCheck recognised that the LSE research was solid but queried if the GCSE performance of academies had been inflated by equivalent qualifications.
Analysis of the 2011 GCSE results posted on this site and in the Observer shows that sponsored academies do not as a group perform as well as other types of school. There are some impressive sponsored academies but their success cannot be applied to academies as a whole. The results of converter academies can’t be used to demonstrate that academies work because the 2011 cohort would have spent most of their school life in non-academy schools and most converter academies were good or outstanding schools with already high results. And conversion is no guarantee that standards will be maintained – Ofsted has already found one converter academy to be inadequate.
The propaganda from both the last and present Governments is becoming increasingly impossible to defend. Academy conversion is being promoted as a silver bullet – it isn’t.