So do academies perform better or not?

Philip Collie's picture
Schoolzone investigated claims that schools can be made to improve by forcing the to convert to academies.

The government is promising/threatening to force low performing schools to become academies, despite the fact that the education select committee has reported in some detail, that they are no better at improving performance than other schools.

On this morning's Today programme*, Nick Gibb refuted - or at least refused to confirm - the committee's findings. As the GCSE data came out last week, we decided to look into this ourselves.

First though, let's clarify the government proposal: that weak schools have their leadership (presumably staff and governors) replaced by either that of another strong school, or from an academy trust. What isn't clear in the proposal is whether there are enough schools available to provide this support, nor where the funding would come from.

So, looking at the data, we need to take into account that:

Converter academies were all rated Good or Outstanding on conversion, so should perform better (See below for profiling used in this analysis)

Sponsored academies are mostly those which were performing badly before being forced in being an academy.

The ratings and school types are as they are now - not necessarily as they were when they achieved the results.

Full article here.

*The Today programme which interviewed Nick Gibb was on 2 February 2014. The section begins with a short interview with Alasdair Smith, the Anti-Academies Alliance, before the longer interview with the Minister for School Reform. You can listen again here (21 days to listen from 10 February) at around 1:09.00.
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Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 13:02

Philip - I noticed on the Today programme Gibb used the misleading statistic that sponsored academies improve faster than other schools. But this was from a lower base - even the DfE has realised that. It told the Guardian sponsored academies were bound to have a higher improvement rate because they had further to go.

Gibb said one million pupils were now in outstanding schools implying this was down to the academies programme. But these good or better schools would also include non-academies which had improved (and forgetting the converter and sponsored academies downgraded to requires improvement or worse).

He also said, rightly, that 60% of secondaries were now academies. But he doesn't seem to have noted Ofsted's finding that it's the secondary sector where the proportion of schools judged good or better has not risen. The rise in the proportion of good or better schools is in the primary sector where there's only a small proportion of academies.

ARK was a brilliant sponsor, Gibb said. But two of ARK's B'ham schools have been judged requires improvement and inadequate.

He blathered on about academy 'freedoms'. But as the Ed Select Committee said, non-academies can do most things academies can do and recommended the freedom to opt-out of the National Curriculum should be given to all schools.

The Government wasn't 'forcing' schools to become academies, Gibb said, before adding the Gov't would indeed enforce conversion where schools weren't improving.

Never mind that this is the most costly intervention and other methods, particularly offering struggling schools support from other schools, were more effective.

Jane Eades's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 13:11

Converter academies were not all rated good or outstanding prior to conversion. On my incomplete list I have 49 which were requiring improvement and none of those have improved their Ofsted grading, some are now deemed to be inadequate.

It is worth also looking at schools which were forced to become academies. I realise that one case does not form a general rule but the Ofsted report on my local secondary school was deeply flawed. The chief inspector (Tribal) was nominally a deputy head at a school which had had problems. The head of my local school was asked to advise. Whether that had anything to do with the secondment to Tribal, I don't know.

What is clear is that the report contained factual errors but was allowed to stand, creating the opportunity for a take over by Harris.

2 students have told me that Harris have "got rid of" difficult students and I have now put in an FoI request for details of exclusions and 'transfers'. I am sure that Harris will claim credit for improved exam results but how much of this will be because of the games which have been played?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 14:13

Jane - an odd thing about Ark's Charter Academy: school performance tables say there were 65 pupils at the end of Key Stage 4. But only 57 are recorded as taking exams. What happened to the missing 12?

Also Schools Week did interesting analysis which showed 'some schools [which] demonstrated high proportions of pupils gaining five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths, the average grade calculated across eight grades looked suspiciously low.'

Included in the list was Charter Academy with an 83% pass rate but an average 8 rate of C-. Ark told Schools Week the academy had focused on Maths and English and many pupils didn't take 8 exams.

Harris Boys' Academy was also included: pass rate 71%, average 8 = C-. Harris said it didn't think average 8 was an 'effective measurement'.

Jenny Collins's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 13:48

Be warned though: to suggest that the main motive behind the academies programme has been the dismantling of state education rather than a desire to 'drive up standards' is to be called a conspiracy theorist.
For evidence of this see my recent blog-post (and note the comment underneath):

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 14:02

Jenny - then the conspiracy theorists must also include the New Schools Network and Policy Exchange. Their report 'Blocking the Best', published before the last election said for-profit schools were on the cards - all that was needed was for schools to be made 'independent' (as academies and free schools are) and they could outsource running the school to for-profit providers (as happened with IES Breckland).

And the conspiracy theorists must also include Michael Gove, who supported 'Blocking the Best' and said he would be happy if Serco ran schools.

At the same time, the academies programme moves schools from the stewardship of local authorities to control from the DfE via their funding agreements.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 13:51

Schools Week found there was a large overlap in performance in primary schools rated good and those that require improvement.

And the EEF found in 2011 that many so-called 'below floor' schools were actually doing a good job in difficult circumstances.

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