Academy underperformance: What the data reveals

Henry Stewart's picture
This post is to make available the presentation I am giving to the conference on Building on London's Success, organised by the teaching unions at the Institute of eduction on 8th Feb 2014.

Click here to download the presentation from Dropbox

Feel free to use it and share it as widely as you can.

Key Facts

  • Non academies GCSE results grew as fast as sponsored academies, when similar schools are compared

  • Academies are far more likely to get their results from GCSE equivalents

  • The greater academy use of equivalents is still true even if previously underperforming schools are compared

  • Pupils in sponsored academies are less likely to achieve a humanity GCSE. Again this remains true if only similar schools are compared

  • Pupils in sponsored academies are less likely to achieve a language GCSE. Again this remains true if only similar schools are compared

  • The larger, long established chains perform far worse than other schools Looking only at schools that have been academies for 5 years or more, 4 of the 7 biggest chains have an average GCSE benchmark of 35% or below

  • In contrast there has been one huge success educational story and that is the London transformation. All types of students do better in London, but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I will aim to do a longer post, reproducing the charts in the presentation. But, for the moment, do download it and use it. Feel free to contact me at for more information.




Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Rosie Fergusson's picture
Sat, 08/02/2014 - 15:21

Good to hear about maintained schools holding their own !

However have the improvements in maintained schools occurred since May 2010 ; if so then this surely supports the proposal that its the " threat of academisation" that has driven improvements in maintained schools .

Similarly as the reinstatement in Mid 2013 of OFSTED's inspection of LA's school Improvement efficacy has driven improvements in the LAs.

But who gets the credit ...the maintained schools have certainly proved that they can improve significantly but , in the interests of fairness, would this have happened without the spectre of Gove and Co.'s Academies to drive it ?

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/02/2014 - 15:41

Rosie - in 2008 when there were admittedly few academies, PriceWaterhouseCooper found when these academies showed improvement they were using the same methods as could be found in improving non-academies.

Ofsted's Annual Report for 2010/11 said good or outstanding schools share common features:

The report into the City Challenge found this initiative was more effective than the sponsored academies programme in raising results.

And the success of the London Challenge had little to do with sponsored academies.

It appears, then, that the "spectre of Gove and Co's academies" had no effect on the raised performance identified by these reports.

That said, the "spectre" has, according to the Academies Commission and others, likely stifled innovation and, according to the OECD in 2011, the excessive emphasis on raw test results in England has negative effects.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 08/02/2014 - 17:14

Rosie - You are part right. LA schools adopted the methods used by Academies to produce the illusion of improvement through the use of equivalents and cramming for English and maths. The result is the degradation of the curriculum and the consequent worsening of opportunities for pupils at the schools most threatened by the floor targets, who are most in need of such opportunities.

Where you are wrong is in assuming this improvement is a good thing. It is in fact a 'race to the bottom'. This is what always happens when marketisation and competition is introduced into public services. Also, I nearly forgot to mention, costs to the taxpayer rocket as senior managers pay themselves more and more of the school's resources are spent on consultants, examiners making money on the side and paid for advice from Ofsted inspectors acting as advisors.

Mike Grenier is a senior housemaster at Eton College.No-one expects his school to post year-on-year improvement, for the very good reasons he gives in this link. -learning-by-mike-grenier-2/

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Sat, 08/02/2014 - 21:11

Hi Janet, some clarification,

I'm not referring to how maintained schools bring about improvement compared to academies's not relevant what methods they use to bring about improvement.

My question is "what has been acting as the driver to cause the increased commitment over the last 3 years for maintained school to improve."

i.e if they can improve so much in the last 3 years , why wasn't there the same level of improvement from 2006-2010?

I know from anecdotes that there are primary schools whose improvements are driven by the fervent wish to avoid forced academy status and the OFSTED grades of 3 or 4 i.e that the spectre of Gove's academies has impacted hugely on the drive for improvement in maintained school across all socio-demographics.

I would also point out that the success of the huge government investment in the London City challenge had little impact on the rest of the country ,irrespective of how it compared to sponsered academies, because the then government did not roll out the lessons learnt or the money to the rest of the country.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 09/02/2014 - 08:31

Rosie - have you a link to the stats that show there wasn't the same level of increased results from 2006-2010?

The answer to what caused any rise in results can be answered in several ways:

1 That the threat of forced academy conversion galvanised schools into raising results (your contention).
2 Teaching has improved.
3 The quality of cohorts has improved.
4 Schools concentrate on test preparation.

Not all of these, of course, indicate the quality of education has risen. Concentrating on test preparation, for example, takes attention away from other things.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 09/02/2014 - 08:36

Rose - the lessons from the London Challenge weren't published until December 2010. The "then government" which ignored the report's findings is the present one.

The evaluation of the City Challenge, which was more successful than the sponsored academies programme in raising results, was commissioned in 2010 shortly before the Coalition came to power and published in 2012. Its findings have been quietly buried by the present Government.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 09/02/2014 - 09:47


"….it’s not relevant what methods they use to bring about improvement."

Yes it is. If 'improvement' measured in terms of high stakes exam based measures results in stressed out, less motivated pupils that don't develop their intellect and ignore academic subjects post 16, while pursuing 'vocational' courses that employers reject as rubbish, it is surely best avoided.


This comes not from some caricature of a trendy left wing university education department, but from Eton College.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Sun, 09/02/2014 - 17:54

I think items 2 and 4 can be considered to be various methods used to achieve 1 ( surely) .

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Sun, 09/02/2014 - 18:04


I'm really meaning the improvement of maintained Primary Schools rather than secondary and I'm not discussing methods which is why I said " its not relevant to discuss ..etc" My point is that many primary schools, under the threat of academisation, have adopted a far more robust commitment to accelerated improvement than they would have done without Gove and the OFSTED grade of "requires improvement".

Primary schools "galvanized" to improve results focus on improving a) teaching , b) prompt and effective data assessment to identify necessity for and impact of interventions c) development of academic support staff and d) training, training training.

This is all clearly evident from any scrutiny of Grade 4 OFsted primary reports.

I believe if you reviewed the approaches to primary school improvement you'd be impressed by many schools' focus on developing learning resilience, reasoning and independent and peer collaboration in learning.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Sun, 09/02/2014 - 18:15

Thanks for the link to the evaluation of the LOndon Challenge. From a quick perusal the LC involved the funding of skilled educational consultants acting with but in effect over and above the LA advisers to review and coordinate strategic managerial improvements in London schools.

I assume all LA's have had open access to this ? So in theory any LA could have implemented its findings surely ? So why are schools still left to themselves to find collaborative partners ..why do LA school improvement advisers still only deal with micro management of teaching rather than providing strategic oversight and consultancy and overseeing collboration and impact assessment between partner schools????

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 09/02/2014 - 18:38

Quite so Rosie, sorry I misunderstood your post.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 09/02/2014 - 18:42

A very good question Rosie. Could it be that in the face of the assault on LA Education Services and the replacement of LEAs and Chief Education Officers by 'Children's Services Departments' with their Corporate Executive Directors, LAs lack the qualified and experienced people needed to do the job. This could be reversed, but it is last thing this government would want to do.

Brian's picture
Sun, 09/02/2014 - 19:55

' why do LA school improvement advisers still only deal with micro management of teaching '

Some LA advisers, surely Rosie. In the LA where I live the advisers do a little micro-mamnegment of teaching, in those schools where it is essential, but they largely involve themselves in the other issues you raise. Indeed I have been in three schools this last week where the LA advisers are working on developing collaboration between partner schools. And why are LA advisers involved? Well in one of the partnerships the three schools involved are at least thirty miles apart and without LA intervention would never have considered a useful collaboration.

agov's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 11:21

My understanding is that LC (and Manchester, I believe) received additional funding, which has deterred other LAs from copying it.

However, it seems Yorkshire hopes to achieve similar success without the additional funding. -

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 12:21

agov - according to your link, Yorkshire and Humber is having a meeting tomorrow (11 Feb) to discuss the area-wide initiative.

The linked article mentions a "damning Yorkshire-wide Ofsted inspection". Careless local reporting - the focused inspection was for East Riding. And it wasn't "damning" but listed strengths and weaknesses. The letter sent to Director of Children's Services in East Riding said:

"In summary, there was acknowledgement for the work the local authority was doing to support and challenge the least effective schools. Nevertheless, much more needs to be done to establish and embed a clear strategic vision for sustained school improvement across schools in the East Riding of Yorkshire."

It appears tomorrow's meeting is part of East Riding's strategy. The letter said heads of academy chains had also been invited. There's no need for them to attend, of course, because they have nothing to do with LAs.

The large number of secondary academies will make London/City Challenge activities more difficult to coordinate if academies don't join in.

agov's picture
Tue, 11/02/2014 - 12:19

Thank you Janet.

I'm quite keen to keep track of how this initiative works out.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.