Education Secretary Michael Gove has made another speech
. As you might expect it hypes Government education policies to show there’s been a “renaissance” in education in England.
But when Gove starts quoting data he‘s on even dodgier ground.
He seems unaware of the dangers of generalising from a small sample and doesn’t understand that if improvement rates are calculated from a low base they are likely to be greater than those calculated from a high one. It's unwise to imply a greater improvement rate is a sign of superiority over schools with a lower improvement rate.
Academies sponsored by Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust, Gove said, “are achieving fantastic results. Last year, on average, the proportion of pupils achieving 5 or more good GCSEs including English and maths rose more than twice as fast in Greenwood Dale Trust academies as in local authority schools across the country.”
Greenwood Dale had five secondary academies which posted GCSE results for 2013. Only two showed an increase in GCSE results in and one, Nottingham Girls’ Academy, showed a decline from 56% to 30%. Department for Education number crunchers
said Greenwood Dale’s results showed “an average improvement of 4.8 percentage points.” But the average results for the five academies were just 48%. If equivalent** exams are removed, the average drops to 30% which doesn’t look quite so “fantastic”.
But it would be wrong to criticise these academies because of results (something Gove should bear in mind). Ofsted has inspected four and judged them all Good.
Gove compared Greenwood Dale academies with “all local authority schools” which only improved by 1.8%. But what he didn’t make clear was that sponsored academies, mostly previously low performing schools, started from a lower base of 48.8%. In 2013 results rose to 51.1% (an improvement rate of 2.3%). Results at non-academies rose from 57.4% to 59.2% (an improvement rate of 1.8%). Gove used these two improvement rates to praise sponsored academies.
But if Gove’s logic is applied consistently then he should be condemning converter academies for only improving GCSE results by 1.6%.
What Gove should have done was compared sponsored academies with similar non-academies. But he’s unlikely to do that because there’s no difference in results
The Harris chain was also praised. Gove focussed on just one school: Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane better known by its previous name, Downhills. Gove used it to attack those who had opposed the schools’ enforced conversion:
“When Downhills was under the control of local politicians, it failed its pupils year after year. For almost a decade it drifted in and out of the very lowest category of performance: ‘special measures’.”
Note the derogatory term “drifted in and out”. This implies Downhills was barely adequate for most of a decade. But from 2005 to 2011 Downhills was not in special measures. In 2008, Inspectors said: “Downhills is an improving school that is providing a satisfactory education...”
It wasn’t until January 2011 that Downhills was judged Inadequate. But monitoring in September 2011 found a “clear trend of improvement”. Gove ignored this and said Downhills was failing. The same lead inspector returned and declared the school was still inadequate (despite the “clear trend of improvement” noted just a term before). But Sats results were rising and continued to rise after the Inadequate verdict. Art work from Downhills was chosen for display in the National Gallery
Harris built on a “clear trend of improvement”
and Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane was judged Good in June 2014. Like so many academies which post higher results, the school was already on an upward path
. So much the better for sponsors taking such schools over – they can claim credit for any future improvement.
* 5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English
**Equivalent examinations are non-GCSE exams which are given a GCSE “equivalent” of, say, four GCSEs.
NOTE: Figures comparing GCSE results in sponsored academies, converter academies, non-academies and all state-funded secondary schools is on page 53 of the Academies Annual Report 2012/13 downloadable here
. I shall write about this piece of PR puff at a later date.