Politicians from Michael Gove and David Cameron to Andrew Adonis and Tony Blair have been fond of using the example of Mossbourne to promote academies. The logic they try to promote is simple: Mossbourne is incredibly successful, Mossbourne is an Academy, therefore becoming an academy is the route to success.
Anybody with even a basic knowledge of logic would spot the flaw here. The fact that Mossbourne is an academy does not meant this is the cause of its success. But we do now have the data to test if there is any basis to the claim. If it is the fact that it is an academy that is the cause of Mossbourne's success then we should expect to see similar success in many of the other 248 original Labour academies.
If you were hoping the fallacy this article was going to expose was the success of Mossbourne, I am afraid you will be disappointed. The data I am about to quote will only emphasise how uniquely successful Mossbourne has been.
Which high-FSM Schools Do Best?
In 2011 82% of Mossbourne's students achieved 5 GCSEs including English and Maths. If we exclude GCSE equivalents, the figure falls but only to 76%. So let's look at similar schools to Mossbourne, which has 40% of its students on free school meals. How many other schools with 40% FSM achieved similar results?
The DfE data reveals that only one school in the country matches Mossbourne's results when you also use the FSM criteria. St Marylebone in Central London achieved 81% on the benchmark measure (GCSE only) with 56% of its students on free school meals. If we relax the criteria, include all schools with 30% or more on free school meals and look for those with at least 65% of students achieving the GCSE benchmark then six schools meet the criteria but Mossbourne is the only academy. The other five were - at the time of last summer's results - community, foundation or voluntary-aided schools. (Burlington Danes is the academy that comes nearest, with 64%.)
|School||Type||FSM||5 ACEM G|
Which Schools with High Low Prior Achievement Do Best
An alternative approach is to look at the proportion of students on 'prior low achievement' (those achieving level 3 in Key Stage 2 at age 11). Prior achievement is, understandably, the best predictor of GCSE success. Overall only 6% of students on low prior achievement achieve 5 GCSEs including English and Maths. That compares to 56% of those with average prior achievement (level 4s) and 94% of high prior achievement (level 5s).
Now Mossbourne has 25% of this students on prior low achievement. Mossbourne is the only school in the country that has at least 25% of prior low achievement and got 75% or more of students through the 5 GCSE benchmark. If we relax the criteria to those with 20% or more on low prior achievement and 65% achieving 5 GCSEs (including English and Maths) then we get 8 schools. Again Mossbourne is the only one that was an academy at the time of the GCSE results. Wembley High is possibly the most impressive, with 29% on prior low achievement and 67% achieving the benchmark.
|School||Type||Prior Low||5 ACEM G|
Conclusion: Mossbourne's success is not due to it being an academy
This data confirms that Mossbourne has achieved remarkable results and is arguably one of the two best performing schools in the country. However if this success was due to it being an academy, we could expect to see many other schools now achieving similar results. In reality the most successful schools in the country were, at the point of last summer's GCSE exams, not academies but standard local comprehensive schools. It appears again that there is no evidence base to the government's move to academies.
What these schools do have in common is that most of them are in London. All the schools in the first table are in London and six of the eight schools in the second table are in London. Two previous posts (here
) have highlighted the success of London schools. Whereas nationally 6% of students of low prior attainment achieved 5 GCSEs (including English and Maths), more than two-and-a-half-times that that proportion (16%) do so in London. The data makes clear the question to ask is not what we have to learn from academies, but what we have to learn from London schools.