I submitted a Freedom of Information
request on 9 March 2012 requesting evidence that underpinned Mr Gove’s statement to the Education Select Committee that “Academy converters and free schools are helping to drive up standards for all children, particularly the most disadvantaged.” Yesterday (2 May), I received the overdue reply
citing various reports to show that sponsored academies had resulted in raising achievement.
Here is a summary of my response*:
1. The answer refers to sponsored academies not converters as requested.
2. The Public Accounts Committee
looked at the National Audit Office
(NAO) 2010 report into academies and used this to endorse academy conversion as a means of raising achievement. However, the Committee missed findings in the same NAO report that not all academies were raising results.
3. Professor Machin
said the LSE report he co-authored could not be used to support converter academies.
4. The "significant success" of city academies “at both primary and secondary level” claimed in the 2009 report from the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions
was not constant across all academies (see PWC below). There were no primary academies in 2009 although a tiny number of academies had become all-through. This miniscule number had not been in existence long enough to be deemed a success.
2008 (PWC) 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’”. PWC found that there was “considerable diversity across individual Academies in the levels and improvements achieved.”
6. NAO 2010 found that the improvement in results of sponsored academies seemed to be as a result of the increased attainment of advantaged pupils. It concluded, “Many [not all] of the academies established so far are performing impressively in delivering the intended improvements. It cannot be assumed, however, that academies’ performance to date is an accurate predictor of how the model will perform when generalised more widely."
7. Citing successful academies ignores the fact that some academies have failed. And it is disingenuous to suggest that Mossbourne rose like a phoenix from the ashes of Hackney Downs just because Mossbourne was built on the same site. Hackney Downs had closed several years before Mossbourne opened.
8. The rate of improvement measure used to show academies are improving faster than other state schools is calculated from a lower base.
9. DfE conclusions about superior academy performance using GCSE results are disputed. FullFact
analysed various claims including analysis on this site
which was praised for its "depth”.
10. Channel 4 FactCheck
looked into Government claims about academies and found that any ministerial announcement about academies should be treated with "a dose of healthy scepticism".
I have asked the DfE to respond to the initial request. If there is no evidence – and really it’s too early to tell – then the DfE should say so. This would reveal Mr Gove’s assertion to be nothing more than a politician’s soundbite.
*The full response is after the DfE’s reply