There is an Academy effect: it's negative

Roger Titcombe's picture
This analysis by Terry Wrigley posted on his website  (see under 'research') examines in detail the various claims made by Government of the benefits of academy schools. It seeks to determine whether there is indeed an ‘academies effect’ in terms of improving school performance. Terry has been researching Academies for many years. His website is a great resource.

This particular paper confirms in detail Henry Stewart's work. I find it especially significant that Academies do so badly on EBacc, Gove's favoured curriculum reform.

I have copied the following from the 'Summary' of the paper.

The main findings reveal that:

1) The headline attainment statistics for academies depend very heavily on alternative qualifications to GCSE. Without these ‘equivalents’, students in academies are just two thirds as likely to achieve five or more A*-C grades including English and Maths as young people studying in non-academy schools. Academies rely on ‘equivalents’ to GCSE twice as heavily as other schools to boost their
attainment scores. Government ministers call this practice ‘gaming’. Although some other schools use this strategy too when faced with the pressure of league tables and Ofsted inspections, academies exploit it most. The use of equivalents inflates attainment figures for academies overall, and in a fifth of academies by over 20 percentage points. There is a clear contradiction in Government
policy in that the supposed success of academies is based on qualifications that ministers distrust and are in the process of abolishing.

2) Disadvantaged pupils do no better in academies than in other schools. Without the ‘equivalent’ qualifications, they do significantly worse.

3) Academies are not improving faster than non-academies with similar characteristics. Schools which have a lower starting point, and also those which have a higher proportion of disadvantaged pupils, tend to have above average improvement. This is true of academies and non-academies alike.The apparent year-on-year improvement of many academies also depends critically on their exploitation of alternative qualifications. Compared with other schools, 3 out of 5 academies show either a deteriorating performance, no change, or an apparent ‘improvement’ resulting from the heavy use of ‘equivalents’. Even among the minority of academies which have improved on the basis of GCSE results, we have to bear in mind that some of them took over from schools which were already showing an upward trend before they became academies. We also know that some academies have found ways of deterring or excluding less ‘promising’ pupils, and in other cases the new buildings will have served to attract more ambitious mobile families, thus boosting results.

4) It is disturbing that 1 out of 7 academies fall below the ‘floor target’, the indicator used by the Government to signify that a school has a serious problem in terms of academic attainment. This is no better for academies which have been open for longer. The comparative figure for all maintained schools is 1 out of 34. Furthermore, but for the
heavy use of equivalents, around 1 in 3 academies would fall through the ‘floor’. Many of these academies have shown very low levels of attainment for some years. This has gone unchallenged, at the same time as higher achieving schools have been closed down for replacement by academies.

5) It is a myth that most academies established before the change of Government replaced
low-achieving schools with disadvantaged populations. In fact, around a third clearly do
not fit that stereotype in terms of pupil composition, and about a half in terms of the attainment levels in the predecessor schools a year before closure. Furthermore, some have subsequently
re-engineered their student populations to reduce the number of disadvantaged pupils, or attracted significant numbers of new pupils who did not attend the predecessor schools.

6) The Government has decreed that schools should encourage pupils to study a combination of GCSE subjects which they have named the ‘English Baccalaureate’ (EBacc). These subjects are English, Maths, two sciences, a humanities subject (History or Geography) and a foreign language. On average, academy pupils are only half as likely to achieve the EBacc subjects as in non-academy schools. In a quarter of academies not a single pupil attained the EBacc combination.

7) This report also examines the argument that the ‘academy effect’ takes some time to achieve. By examining academies which have been open for five years or more, we conclude that this has little impact on academies’ ability to raise academic attainment. It is important to acknowledge that improvement does take time, but unfortunately this time is not granted to non-academy schools. Problems within these long-established but low-achieving academies continue to be attributed by politicians to low achievement in the predecessor schools. This explanation is unconvincing since the predecessor schools have been closed for five years and more. The academies which replaced them have had many advantages, including new buildings and extensive support. To all intents and purposes these academies are new schools which should now be evaluated according to their current poor performance.

8) Given the recent emphasis in Government policy on major sponsors running chains of academies, the report examines these developing chains based on their most recent examination results. It concludes that there is little consistency in achievement, equity or curriculum, so that it is difficult to identify any improvement which might be due to the involvement of the major sponsor.
The attainment of disadvantaged pupils is of concern in half the academies run by major
sponsors. This has not stopped the Government handing these chains control of large numbers of
additional schools.
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