The Education Bill: A solution that will harm schools

Henry Stewart's picture
Today is the second reading of Nicky Morgan's Education and Adoption Bill. The main purpose is to speed up the conversion to academy status of "inadequate" and "coasting" schools, It will force local authorities and governing bodies to implement an academy order, whether or not they feel it is in the best interest of the children.

And the evidence increasingly suggests it is not in the best interest of those children. The education select committee, chaired by Graham Stuart of the Conservatives, carried out a thorough review of academies and free schools and found no such evidence. “Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school,”

Announcing the bill, the Secretary of State claimed to have "education experts who know exactly what they have to do to make a failing school outstanding." I have submitted a Freedom of Information request to ask how many schools rated "Inadequate" by Ofsted have been converted and how many of these have since become Outstanding. I await the response with interest. 

A study of the current Ofsted listing of the most recent inspections for all secondary schools suggests she is unlikely to find many. For secondaries the number of schools going from Inadequate last time to Outstanding this time is precisely zero. For primaries there are eight schools listed as making that remarkable transition but none are academies. All are local authority or voluntary aided schools ("maintained schools").

The Ofsted list, which shows the current and previous inspection, shows that a secondary school is far more likely to improve its Ofsted rating if it is not a sponsored academy. With academies that have had two Ofsted inspections since conversion (as the report does not list a school's rating pre-conversion) we find:

Sponsored academies twice as likely to stay Inadequate

For secondary schools previously rated as inadequate, sponsored academies are twice as likely (18% v 9%) to stay inadequate as maintained schools. Non-academies are over three times more likely (27% v 6%) to move from Inadequate to Good or Outstanding than sponsored academies.

Sponsored academies twice as likely to fall from RI to Inadequate

For those previously rated "Requires Improvement" they are more than twice as likely (20% v 8%) to fall to Inadequate if they are a Sponsored academy

Non-academies three times as likely to move from Good to Outstanding

For secondary schools previously rated Good, they are almost four times as likely (19% v 5%) to fall to Inadequate if they are Sponsored academies. At the same time they are more than three times as likely to become Outstanding from Good (16% v 5%) if they are a maintained school as opposed to a Sponsored academy

These dramatic differences are only true of sponsored academies, generally schools that were "underperforming" and sponsored as an academy by another school or by an academy chain. "Converter academies", where a school is generally Good or Outstanding and chooses to convert, perform as well as maintained schools.

This analysis appears to show that conversion of a school that is rated Inadequate is likely to slow its improvement. Indeed, rather than helping it, becoming a sponsored academy is more likely to lead to a school falling back to being Inadequate and less likely to become Good or Outstanding.

There is no data to back up the Secretary of State's claims. The Bill is very clearly based on ideology not evidence. As the Education Select committee also stated, “the government should stop exaggerating the success of academies”. It is advice that Nicky Morgan would do well to take.


Note: This analysis only includes secondary schools. The reason is that, to qualify, a sponsored academy must have had two Ofsted inspections since conversion. While this is true of 211 sponsored academy secondary schools, it is only true of 2 sponsored academy primary schools.
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John Mountford's picture
Mon, 22/06/2015 - 16:35

Henry, thanks for this. Another great job. We owe so much to you and to Janet for keeping us informed about the wanton destruction of state education by our own government.

I have written to Jacob Rees-Mogg (my MP) and attach a version of the letter below. I am trying to get maximum coverage in the hope that very many people will contact their own MP with a personalised version urging them to vote out this hideous bill, backed up as it is with nothing but spin. It is not acceptable that this, or any other democratic government is able to pass laws on the basis of lies and misinterpretation of facts that are in the public domain.

Hope you don't mind!! It is vital, that this particular Bill does not get onto the statute books. I believe if we targeted every MP we would have a chance of sinking it. It has to be worth the effort.

Dear MP

Education reform is a highly contentious area of public policy. The Education and Adoption Bill is especially so, threatening, as it does to force schools to convert to academy status, even if local stakeholders object. In fact, I regard curtailing rights to campaign against forced academisation as undemocratic. If such rights are to be removed by parliament, then the benefits of doing so should overwhelmingly outweigh the loss of such a right. In the case of this bill, it does not.

As a retired teacher, former Ofsted inspector and primary school governor, I am appealing to you to vote against the new Education and Adoption Bill introduced into parliament on 3 June 2015. Put plainly, I reject the claims made by the government that turning ‘failing’ schools into academies will “give every single child the best start in life.” When examined without prejudice, the facts do not support such a conclusion.

I base my opposition to this bill on three arguments:

Firstly, this reform is not supported by evidence, even as evaluated by certain organs of Parliament.

Secondly, removing opportunities for local communities to oppose ‘forced’ academisation of their schools is counter to the UN Charter of Human Rights and further contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Finally, the government, with its small working majority, failed to win a sufficient mandate to force through such contentious reform.

The Public Accounts Committee report published Friday 30 January 2015 questioned the Education Department’s knowledge and understanding of performance in individual schools. Whilst covering all categories of school, the report has this to say about academies in particular:

“There are no independent assessments of the effectiveness of academy sponsors and the Department has taken an optimistic view of sponsor capacity for too long. The Department’s main intervention for failing maintained schools is to match them with a sponsor and turn the school into a sponsored academy. Often the failing school will become part of a chain of academies run by one sponsor with a central management function. In its keenness to expand the academies programme and increase the number of sponsored academies, it has allowed some chains to grow too quickly without the necessary capacity and capability. It has currently ‘paused’ the growth of 18 sponsors because of concerns about their performance; these sponsors are currently educating almost 100,000 children. However, it has no independent source of information about the effectiveness of academy sponsors and the Department is over-reliant on whistleblowers. Ofsted is able to focus inspections on a number of academies within a chain and give an assessment about how well the chain supports those academies but, unlike in local authorities, it is unable to inspect the central management function of a sponsor (which is the primary mechanism for delivering improvement in a failing school). Unlike the powers Ofsted has to inspect local authorities, there is no statutory framework setting out the basis for what the inspectors are assessing when they look at the operation of an academy chain, and Ofsted awards no overall judgement or rating of academy sponsors.

Recommendation: The Department should obtain independent judgements of the capacity of sponsors that run more than one academy, and should use this to determine which sponsors are able to grow and when it should intervene with particular sponsors.”

As far as my own enquiries have been able to establish, no action has been taken, or is in train, to address these serious concerns.

The report also considers what interventions are best to ensure that underperforming schools improve. It states:

“The Department does not know enough about which formal interventions are most effective to tackle failure under which circumstances. Of schools inspected by Ofsted in 2012/13, 48% (62 out of 129) of those which had received some kind of formal intervention improved at their next inspection. The remainder stayed the same or deteriorated, with the apparent impact of different interventions varying significantly. Meanwhile, 59% (2,181 out of 3,696) of schools that received no formal intervention also improved.

The Department has not done enough to evaluate the effectiveness of different interventions and so does not know which are the most cost-effective. It recognises that it needs to do more.

Recommendation: The Department should commission a full evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of all formal interventions in schools.”

I believe this is another vital recommendation that has not been acted upon. How can the government claim, as it does with conviction, that forcing schools to become academies is the most effective way to ‘turn them around’?

The Education Select Committee has also reported, rather negatively, on the academies programme. It questioned conflict of interest and transparency, especially for academy chains.

“The Academies Commission, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee questioned the capacity of the EFA to monitor funding agreements and hold academies to account for the use of public funds.”

Concerned about transparency over the process of academisation, the Committee recommended:

“156. Greater transparency is also needed regarding the process and criteria by which sponsors are authorised and matched with schools.”
As the Bill is currently worded, how will this work if local voices are curtailed from the outset?

In the same report, the Committee again questions the evidence:

“173. We have sought but not found convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools. We recommend that the DfE commission, as a matter of urgency, research into the relationship between academy status and outcomes at KS1 and KS2 so that sponsors and RSCs can be clear which models and characteristics are most strongly correlated with improved performance. “

I could go on identifying sound reasons why the Bill under consideration should not go ahead, especially since most of these “underperforming” schools will be primaries.

Henry Stewart of the Local Schools Network gave evidence to the Committee. He raised the following points: “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.”

It is clear that the existing academies programme has produced instability, excess and abuse and one need go no further than the thorough review carried out by the Select Committee to find the evidence.

It is very pertinent, when the outcome of the general election is subjected to closer analysis, to ask how clear is the government’s mandate to press ahead with the reforms contained in this Bill?

The present government secured less than a quarter of the votes cast on a turnout of 66.1%. It is an interesting coincidence that the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, is introducing legislation on rules over strikes in the public sector. The intention is to ensure that a minority of union members cannot behave undemocratically. The plan is to make it illegal to call a strike unless 40 percent of those eligible to vote do so and unless 50 percent of those votes are cast in favour of strike action. Clearly, more than 50% of the electorate voted at the recent election, but of those, only 36.9% voted in the government’s favour, a full 13.1% short of the ‘magic’ 50% deemed necessary to legitimise action. In pressing ahead with the education Bill in question, is the government guilty of operating against its own principles? I believe it is.

This has been a long submission. It could have been even more detailed as the reasons why this Bill has to be halted are many and complex. As a final thought, at a time when the government is introducing further austerity measures, the evidence clearly indicates that forging ahead with further academisation does not offer good value to taxpayers. It does not seem reasonable to press on until the recommendations, made by a broad cross-section of MP’s to deal with the many shortcomings in the structural reform of schooling, are acted upon.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope I have convinced you of the necessity to vote against this Bill. I look forward to receiving your reply in due course.


Academies and free schools – Education Evidence of effect of academy status on standards and closing the gap (Parliament Home Page 2015)

House of Commons Education Committee – Academies and Free Schools Fourth Report of Session 2014–15

agov's picture
Tue, 23/06/2015 - 10:27

Following the election Graham Stuart is no longer chair of the select committee. I'm assuming the committee will now be an enthusiastic supporter of the government's policies irrespective of any evidence.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/06/2015 - 11:59

agov - the new chair of the Ed Select Committee is Neil Carmichael, Tory MP for Stroud. Despite being a Conservative, it appears he is likely to be as independent as Graham Stuart. He's already said 'The role of the regional school commissioners is an area that needs much greater exploration. We don’t have enough detail in terms of width and depth of their roles and how they are going to work, which we need because they are going to be playing a major part in the coasting schools issue.'

He also said he want a definition of what 'coasting' means asap.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 23/06/2015 - 13:06

I looked in a thesaurus for the antonyms of 'coasting'. I found, lumbering, plodding, stumbling, floundering, struggling, shambling, shuffling, stomping, tramping, labouring and toiling.

The synonyms I found were, breezing, cruising and gliding.

Which would you want for your children?

agov's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 08:45

Yes Janet, he did say that. Don't know why that would mean anything other than prodding them to coerce schools into becoming <del>profit centres</del> academies.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/06/2015 - 11:54

Cameron has said even good schools could be forced to become academies if they don't make 'fast enough progress in raising standards'.

It appears, then, the PM is only interested in raw results and it doesn't matter whether the school is good. The EEF (2011) found many 'before-floor' schools were actually 'well-run and effective'. That cuts no ice with our PM - results must be raised. The OECD said in 2011 there was already too much emphasis on exam results in England. But our PM and his ministers have put even more stress on test data.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 23/06/2015 - 13:39

You are right Janet. The 2011 EEF report is well worth reading.

"Below-floor schools are defined by their low performance in national exams at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4. However, as mentioned above, the national exams measure absolute performance only; they do not take account of the challenges a school may face.

'Contextual value added' scores adjust for these outside factors using statistical
techniques that try to distinguish the impact of the school itself from the effects of any
prior advantages or disadvantages the school’s pupils may face. Ofsted assessments
take into account a wide range of evidence which includes performance data (including CVA – meaning the two measures are not entirely independent of each other), school self-evaluation, observation of classroom practice, and discussions with senior managers, staff, and pupils. It also takes into account the views of parents. In assessing pupil achievement, inspectors will consider in particular the progress made by pupils and the standards they achieve.

When we assess the target schools' performance using these measures, it becomes
clear that, although in general they perform at a lower level than other schools
(particularly at primary level), there are important exceptions. For instance, a very high
proportion of EEF secondary schools received a rating of 'Outstanding' in their most
recent Ofsted inspection; similarly, almost a quarter of EEF secondary schools receive a 'contextual value added' score that is significantly above the national average.
Thus, while EEF schools perform on average less well than others, there are many
schools within this group performing effectively in difficult circumstances."

Unfortunately this was back in 2011. Since then OfSTED has become less independent of DfE policy and more driven by results. The politicisation of OfSTED actually started way back with Labour's first academies. See 'Learning Matters' Section 3.2 - Investigating the new Academies - also my 2008 paper 'How Academies threaten the comprehensive curriculum'.

It is especially important to note that while the EEF schools had high proportions of 'disadvantaged' pupils, there is no evidence that more able and less disadvantaged pupils performed any less well in such schools. This is the huge logical fallacy that lies at the heart of the competition and marketisation ideology.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 09:51

agov- to give the new chair the benefit of the doubt, I interpreted it to mean he wasn't happy with the loose remit of the Regional Commissioners. It's encouraging he wants a clear definition of 'coasting'.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 10:57

In Westminster Hall yesterday, Stuart Jackson, the MP for Peterborough paid tribute to those P'Boro schools which acted as hubs and pathfinders for teaching EAL students. Their training and the work they do with other P'Boro schools was based on elements of the London Challenge, the MP said in an eloquent defence of grant funding for EAL. The praised schools comprised two sponsored academies, one converter and five community schools.

This shows it is not necessary to become an academy in order to do praiseworthy work. Nick Gibb was pressed to name one non-academy which had done well. He did not do so. He mentioned just one academy - the atypical King Solomon Academy which was a new academy built up year-by-year from scratch and said its success was down to its autonomy. But the Academies Commission and the Ed Select Committee have both said most academy freedoms are available to non-academies.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 24/06/2015 - 11:00

Roger - your antonyms could describe the performance of ministers at the DfE all hidden under a slick veneer of misrepresentation, dodgy analysis and soundbites about 'social justice'.

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