Few new sponsored primaries achieved “remarkable” results, DfE stats contradict DfE spin

Janet Downs's picture
"Some of the improvements seen at new sponsored primary academies are remarkable – ending years of chronic under-performance. The expertise and strong leadership provided by sponsors is the best way to turn around weak schools and give pupils there the best chance of a first-class education."

Department for Education (DfE) spokesman, The Guardian, 12 December 2013

But as Henry Stewart pointed out here, the biggest SAT increases are in non-academies.

So, are the results of “new sponsored academies” really “remarkable”?   The evidence suggests not.

I identified 117 sponsored primary mainstream academies which posted results in 2013 but not 2012.  This suggests they were new sponsored academies opening in September 2012.

40 of the 117 didn’t reach the benchmark of 60% reaching Level Four in reading, writing and maths (roughly 33%).   43 achieved results between 60% and 69%.

None of the remaining 34 reached results above 88%.   

But an interesting pattern emerged.  24 of the 34 had seen results rise in the previous year(s).  Sometimes the improvement was dramatic: 

1         Newington Primary School:  40% in 2010 to 78% in 2012;

2         Orchard School, Milton Keynes: 37% (2011) to 77% (2012);

3         St Augustine’s RC Primary: 48% (2011) to 80% (2012).

It’s true in some cases (e g Orchard School above) the rise followed years of “chronic underperformance” but the fact is results improved before schools became sponsored.  This suggests that left to their own devices results would have increased in any case without the palaver, stress and cost of becoming an academy. 

A cynic might say these schools had been targeted deliberately.  They were on an upward trajectory so the sponsor could claim credit for any further improvement.   At the same time the DfE needed to act quickly to persuade schools to becomes academies before they could no longer be described as “failing”. 

Some sponsored academies did see a large improvement.  Croft Academy’s results rose to 71% from 52% in 2012.  At Ilminster Avenue E-Act 78% of pupils reached the benchmark compared with 32% in 2012.  But another E-Act sponsored academy, E-Act Blackley Academy (previously Victoria Avenue Community School) saw results fall from 77% in 2012 to 72% in 2013. In 2012 results had risen from 55%.

Other rises were more modest and results in some new sponsored academies fell.

So, turning schools into sponsored academies is not a magic bullet to improve performance.   In any case, a rise in results does not necessarily mean a rise in the quality of education – it could mean schools squeeze out other subjects or concentrate on teaching to the test.


CAVEAT: the data.  I used the DfE performance tables here.  I filtered the data to include only sponsored academies.  For reasons unexplained, this produced a different total to Henry’s.  The DfE tables I used showed there were 18,592 state-funded mainstream primary schools in England comprising:

1200 academy converters

89 free schools

485 sponsored academies

9,833 community schools

3,741 Voluntary aided (VA) schools

2,488 Voluntary Controlled (VC) schools

756 Foundation schools

The last four categories, the vast majority of state primary schools in England, are local authority maintained schools (aka non-academies).  These are the schools constantly rubbished by the DfE in order to claim academies and free schools as a group are superior.  They aren't. 

I have done my best to ensure the accuracy of the data in this thread.  If anyone spots any errors please let me know and I will correct them.
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