Contact: Henry Stewart (07870 682442)
The government’s proposal to force one thousand schools to convert to academy status is an experiment based on dogma not data. Most of these schools are primary schools and the government has been unable to produce any evidence that conversion of primary schools to academy status produces any improvement. Indeed analysis of primary school results indicates that academy conversion actually slows progress.
Nicky Morgan claims that the measures will enable the “best education experts to intervene in poor schools”. However the track record of the academy chains, to which she is referring, is middling at best. A recent DfE report
found that of the 20 leading academy chains (those with five schools or more), only 3 have a value added that is above the national average.
No evidence of benefits from academy conversion
This January the Education Select Committee produced its report
on academies and free schools. It stated that "current evidence does not allow us to draw firm conclusions on whether academies are a positive force for change" and that "academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school."
The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), in its report on academy school performance
, found that "In analysing school-level GCSE data since 2007, no significant improvement is seen in the rate of improvement of GCSE results for academy schools over and above the rate of improvement in all schools."
Government education ministers have made various claims about the performance of academies. However in the High Court last summer
the DfE claimed only that improvement in academies was "marginally higher". Even this disappeared when GCSE equivalents (which have since been largely removed from the performance measures) were stripped out.
Our own analysis at LSN has found that sponsored academies improve no faster than similar maintained schools. Indeed analysis of the 2014 GCSE results
found that results in sponsored academies consistently fell more than results in non-academies.
Primary schools: academy conversion appears to slow progress
The Education Select Committee explored the effect of academies in the primary sector and found "no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools".
Our own analysis
of primary school results has found evidence that conversion to being an academy does have an effect, but its effect is to reduce progress. If primary academies are compared to similar non-academies (according to their previous results), then the increase in KS2 results is lower for academies in all cases except the top 20%.
The evidence is clear. For underperforming schools conversion to academy status resulted in slower progress than those schools which remained with their local authority. The DfE is aware of this analysis and has never challenged it.
Note: For this analysis, academies were split into five equal bands, by their 2012 KS2 results, and compared with non-academies in those ranges,
Academy chains: most perform significantly worse
The government's preferred solution for "underperforming" schools is to place them in an academy chain. However while a small number of chains have performed well, the majority have not.
The Education Select Committee report
a Sutton Trust report that stated “most [chains] are not achieving distinctive outcomes compared to mainstream schools; and there are actually more that perform significantly worse, than there are chains that perform significantly better”
The DfE's own analysis of the largest chains found exactly the same problem. If the performance of academies in chains was compared to schools in local authorities, then the latter were far more successful. Indeed combining the two to produce a top 50 reveals that 47 of the top performing ones are local authorities and only three are chains.
Ofsted is not allowed to directly inspect academy chains, as it does with local authorities. However it has carried out indirect inspections, by inspecting large numbers of schools from a single chain, with very worrying results. It has come to highly critical conclusions on AET, E-ACT, Kemnall and Schools Partnership Academy Trust.
, half of the dozen schools inspected were found not to be providing a "good" education. On E-ACT
, Ofsted stated that the “overwhelming proportion of pupils…not receiving a good education”. Of 16 E-ACT schools inspected, no less than 11 were rated "Inadequate" or "Requires Improvement". The DfE did itself halt the expansion
of 14 chains, because of concerns about their performance.
With the poor track record of academy chains to date, it is unclear why the government believes academy chains have the capacity or capability to transform one thousand schools.
Conclusion: a policy based not on evidence
There are some big questions for the government to answer about this new policy:
1) Most of these "underperforming" schools will be primaries. Given that the Education Select Committee specifically found no evidence of improvement from academy conversion in primaries, why does the government believe this will be the result?
2) Academy chains have a very mixed record, with more below average than above. Why is the government's solution to take schools from local authorities - which DfE data suggests perform better - and give them to academy chains - where DfE data indicates schools generally perform worse.
3) The government has stopped many academy chains from expanding because they have proved to lack the capacity or capability to manage their existing schools. Why does the government believe that academy chains have the capacity to take over one thousand further schools?
4) What is the government's plans for the many academies that fall into the "underperforming" category?
Nicky Morgan argues that these schools will be put in the hands of "education experts", though who judges who is an "expert" is unclear. What is likely is that they will be put in the hands of chains that do not have either the capacity or the expertise for this massive project. It is a policy that has no basis in evidence and could lead to far worse performance than if those schools were left with their local authority.