Academies open for more than two years make less progress than non-academies, NFER found

Janet Downs's picture
Academies open for more than two years, on average, made less progress between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 than non-academy schools, the National Foundation for Educational Research* (NFER) found.

At first sight, it appeared academies, on average, achieved a higher average GCSE point score and had a higher proportion of pupils achieving 5+ A*-C grades than non-academies.  But when the NFER stripped out equivalent examinations this was no longer the case:

1         There was no significant difference in progress made between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage for non-academies and academies that had been open for less than two years.

2         Academies open for more than two years made less progress between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 than non-academies.

Longitudinal analysis looked at the GCSE attainment figures in a slight different way.  Researchers found a “significant increase in progress” for the 2011 GCSE cohort in academies BUT this was not repeated in 2012.  There was no significant difference in 2012 between the rate of improvement in GCSE results between non-academies and academies.  NFER wrote:

“What this means in practice is that, based on the 2012 GCSEs, we do not see a jump in attainment following a school taking academy status.”

NFER said its analysis doesn’t “confirm, or refute, the claim that academy schools lead to improved progress” because the 2011 and 2012 results contradicted each other.   At the same time, NFER said any improvement in progress in academies may not actually be attributable to academy status.  It may be the result of other factors such as the “quality of school leadership or the quality of teaching”.  These qualities are, of course, also found in non-academies.

If the NFER were able to run models which could reliably measure these qualities, they may find there’s a “strong positive association” between these qualities and GCSE attainments.  If these qualities were reliably identified, NFER wrote, “the association between academy status and attainment becomes much reduced, or disappears entirely”.

It’s worth noting that PwC** made similar comments in 2008: when academies improved, they were using similar methods to those found in improving Local Authority schools.  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’”.

The Ofsted Annual Report 2010/11 identified qualities likely to be found in good and outstanding schools.  Academy status was not one of them.

Henry Stewart’s analysis, confirmed by academics from Leeds and Manchester Universities, found there is no ‘Academy effect’.  The Academies Commission (2013) found many previously underperforming non-academy schools in disadvantaged areas did just as well as similar academies.  Results in sponsored academies were slightly lower than similar non-academy schools when equivalent (non-GCSE) exams were removed from the figures.

Although NFER was keen to point out its research neither confirmed nor denied an ‘Academy effect’, its findings when combined with earlier reports tend to confirm there is no such thing.

Thanks to Roger Titcombe for sending us a link to the NFER report.

Note: The NFER intends to analyse GCSE results for 2013 and 2014 to see if “effects remain stable”.


*Rutt, S. and Styles, B. (2013). Analysis of Academy School Performance in the 2011 and 2012 GCSEs (LGA ResearchReport). Slough: NFER.

**See faq above re PwC 2008
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