Primary schools: Local authority schools are the most improved

Henry Stewart's picture
** Of the 316 primary schools with an increase in their 2013 KS2 results of over 20%, just 3 were sponsored academies and 13 were converter academies. Fully 300 of these fast improving schools were non-academies. (Based on schools with more than 25 pupils taking KS2 SATs.)

** When primary sponsored academies are compared to similar maintained schools, the non academies schools improved at twice the rate in 2013 – for all groups of schools below 80% on the KS2 benchmark in 2012.

Selective use of data by the DfE

These are two facts that are not included in today’s Department for Education press releases, a classic in selective use of data. It seeks to show that academies were the route to primary school success. The press release makes two main claims:

1) For the 1,340 “converter” academies, more students (81% against 76% overall) “achieve the expected level in the 3Rs”.

Note that this comparison is on absolute levels, not growth. The schools encouraged to convert first were the ones rated Good or Outstanding. So the boast from the DfE is the not surprising one that, having converted more of the best performing schools, their results are above average. (90% of these converters are rated Good or Outstanding, compared to 78% overall.)

2) Of the 570 “sponsored” academies, the proportion of pupils reaching the expected level increased by 3%, compared to 1% for primary schools overall.

Note that the comparison is in terms of growth, not absolute levels. The schools that grow fastest are those at the lowest starting points and more of these are sponsored academies. (In contrast, schools above 80% achieving the 2012 KS2 benchmark saw on average a fall in 2013. 43% of maintained schools fall into this category, but only 4% of sponsored academies.)

The DfE always does the comparison this way round. It never talks about the growth in results in converter academies (which are a little below the overall average) or the absolute level in sponsored academies (which is well below the average).

When compared to similar schools, non academies do better

The DfE likes to give the impression that the only way to improve schools is to become academies. However it can only make the data support this view by comparing sponsored academies to all schools and not to schools starting from similar positions. If primary academies are compared to similar non-academies, based on their 2012 results, the advantage disappears.

The graph below is based on dividing schools into four bands, based on their 2012 SATs results.  There were, for instance, 81 sponsored academies and 1,337 LA schools in the 40-59% range in 2012. The results for the sponsored academies rose by an impressive 5.3%. However the results for the LA schools rose by more than double that, 12.0%. The same is true of the 20-39% and the 60-79% band. In the highest band, 80%+, both academies and non-academies saw their results fall on average by 4%.

The move to convert English primary schools to academies is a massive experiment. There has been no pilot and there was no research into whether it would work and no evidence to base this major shift upon. As the DfE is proud to state there are now 1,983 primary academies that have taken, or been forced into, this huge step into the unknown.

This first evidence suggests it may not have been a good focus of the government’s school improvement strategy. The results are clear: Those schools who stayed with their local authority, and sought improvement outside of being an academy, performed – on average – much better than those that took the academy route.


Data Notes

The increase in KS2 results refers to the % achieving the expected Level 4 in Reading, Writing and Maths

For the full list of those 316 fast growing primaries, click here.

This analysis is based on three datasets from the Department for Education:

2013 KS2 performance tables: This includes KS2 results for each school in 2012 and 2013. However for most primaries that became academies in 2012-13, it does not include the 2012 results of the “predecessor school”.

Open academies: - this dataset enables links the academy to the predecessor school

2012 KS2 performance tables:

Note: There were only 10 schools (2 academies and 8 other schools) in the 0-20% category and so these have not been included ion the graph above. (For the record sponsored academies in this lowest category grew their results by 41% in 2013, and LA schools by 42%.)

The data for the above graph is:

2012 RangeSp academyLA


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Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 07/04/2014 - 09:01

Thanks Henry for blowing holes in the DfE stats.

I note the press release again sings the praises of Ryecroft Primary Academy, Bradford. The data showing improved results is correct but Northern Education Trust only took over the school in September 2012 - just over two terms before Year 6 pupils would have taken Sats in 2013.

Any improvement, therefore, would have built on foundations laid by the previous community school. Ofsted judged the predecessor school Good in July 2010. The school’s capacity for sustained improvement was Outstanding.

Shortly after the school became an academy, Ralph Berry, Bradford’s executive member for children’s services, said he believed the DfE put the school “under pressure” to convert after failing to hit targets for a number of years.

NET chief executive Roger Alston said: “The DfE spoke to Ryecroft before they spoke to us and said ‘we think you might benefit from academy status with a good trust’ and they went along with that. And NET's CEO even said the "green shoots" of recovery were already present.

It is disingenuous, then, to attribute the school’s success solely to the sponsor.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 07/04/2014 - 10:16

DfE Stats for January 2013 show there were 4.3 million pupils in state-funded primary schools. So, half a million are in primary academies. That means 3.8 million aren't.

Perhaps the DfE should stop rubbishing these 3.8 million pupils and their schools. It's sending out the wrong message to parents and children - what the DfE is implying is that it only values pupils in academies.

… have been discussed ad nauseam in terms ranging from academic performance (on which subject, this just came out) to financial probity. But there’s a human cost too, as that story and this poignant one from …

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