Media ignores DfE academy spin

Janet Downs's picture
“More than 2,600 schools now open as academies,” trumpets a recent Department for Education (DFE) press release. But the media has ignored the spin.

Instead, the media concentrated on the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards. And when it did mention academies (the school variety) it focussed mainly on the Academies Commission findings that some academies manipulated their admissions in favour of children more likely to achieve.

So what claims did the DfE make?

1 There are “more than 2,000 converter academies”. These, according to the DfE, “decided to take advantage of the benefits and freedoms that come with Academy status”. Unfortunately for the DfE, the Academies Commission found that “most things an academy can do, a maintained school can also do.”

2 “48% of all secondaries” are now academies. So 52% aren’t. Perhaps these will be deterred when they read the Academies Commission report: many academy converters were surprised about the extra bureaucracy and legal duties involved.

3 “In Darlington, Rutland and Bexley, every secondary school is an Academy.” That’s 9 secondary schools in Darlington, 8 in Bexley and 3 in Rutland. But Councillors in Tory Rutland are worried. Their Strategic Risk Register (May 2012) said, “As the number of Rutland schools becoming Academies increases, so does the impact on the provision of central services by the Local Authority.”

4 “In 2011, the GCSE results of sponsored Academies open for at least two years improved almost twice as fast as those for all state-funded schools”. But “all state-funded schools” include grammar schools and high-performing comprehensives. Most sponsored academies were previously poor-performing schools so the improvement rate will be higher because it’s calculated from a lower base. Henry Stewart’s research, cited in the Academies Commission report, challenges DfE claims. And the Academies Commission, while praising the “stunning success” of some sponsored academies, said this was “not common”. It concluded that sponsored academies “have not, as a group, performed markedly better than similar schools. Academisation alone does not guarantee improvement.”

Academisation alone does not guarantee improvement. Eventually the DfE might get the message.

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