June and July are bustin’ out all over – with reports and research. And they’re not good news for the Government.

Janet Downs's picture
Only 15% of the twenty largest academy chains perform above the national average on ‘added value’ compared to 44% of 100 local authorities**. That’s the finding of NFER research published by the Local Government Association (LGA) today. The report also showed ‘on average, pupils attending maintained schools achieved the same high standard of GCSE results in 2014 as those attending academies.’ These findings rather contradict the Department for Education spokesperson who told the Independent ‘academies were the key to providing an “excellent education”’. And it further undermines the claim that academy status, especially with a sponsor or within a chain, is the best way of improving schools.

A National Audit Office Funding for Disadvantaged Pupils published yesterday said while the pupil premium had ‘the potential to bring about a significant improvement in outcomes’, it wasn’t always employed effectively. Neither had it always increased school budgets because ‘other real-terms reductions’ in school funding had a negative impact. 16% of the most disadvantaged secondary schools had experienced a fall in real terms of per-pupil funding by over 5% between 2010/11 and 2014/15, the NAO estimated.

But Education Secretary Nicky Morgan will claim in a speech to the Sutton Trust today that funding to the most deprived secondary schools is 41% higher. 5% lower or 41% higher – some discrepancy, surely?

The Sutton Trust’s report, Pupil Premium: Next Steps confirms the NAO finding about ineffective use of the pupil premium. Its survey reveals ‘very few schools choose some of the best bets for low cost effective approaches.’ The Sutton Trust highlights its excellent Teacher Toolkit which lists the pros and cons of various interventions in an easily accessible way. It’s a boon for schools wanting to quickly find the most effective interventions and the costs involved.

Morgan will cite some of the Toolkit evidence in her speech. It’s odd, then, that many Government preferences are contradicted by the resource. In her speech Morgan will pay tribute to ARK Charter Academy in Portsmouth because it’s introduced longer school days. But the toolkit found extending school time had ‘low impact for moderate cost’.

But Morgan thinks extending school days is desirable to drive up standards. This goal would also be achieved if, among other things, disadvantaged pupils weren’t ‘ushered towards easier subjects’. It’s unclear what these ‘easier subjects’ are – non E-Bacc subjects, perhaps? Or does she mean equivalent exams? If she does, she should remember sponsored academies made more use of equivalent qualifications compared to similar maintained schools*. The ARK academy she will praise made extensive use of these in 2012/13 – 68% of Charter Academy’s pupils reached the benchmark 5 GCSEs (including equivalents) A*-C including Maths and English but this fell to 32% when equivalent exams were removed. And in 2013/14, just 9% of Charter Academy’s GCSE candidates achieved the full suite of EBacc subjects (Morgan’s ‘rigorous academic qualifications'). The national average was 24.2%.

A well-known Govean phrase will appear in Morgan’s speech – ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’. Rather than repeating what her predecessor said (which adds to the perception she is little more than a puppet), the Secretary of State would do better to read the evidence that academies are not the only key to an ‘excellent education’.

*Local Government Association/NFER report Analysis of Academy School Performance in GCSEs 2014 (p vi).

**ADDENDUM 3 July. Barry Wise (first comment) poured water on this statistic. I maintained comparing value-added between large academy chains and local authorities was a valid comparison to make. But there are reasons to be cautious about the result:

1 Twenty is rather a small number to come to reliable conclusions. Any small variation would have a disproportionate effect on percentages.
2 The local authority results would include results for academies. In some small LAs eg Rutland, Doncaster, all secondary schools are academies. This raises the question about how far LAs can influence academy results.
3 Academies which perform well on value added would (obviously) raise the LA's overall figure. The converse is also true - academies which perform poorly would depress the LA's figure. This raises further question: how reliable is it praise/censure LAs for secondary performance when the majority of its secondary schools are outside their stewardship?
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Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 01/07/2015 - 20:37


I nearly fell off my chair laughing at the first paragraph:

Only 15% of the twenty largest academy chains perform above the national average on ‘added value’ compared to 44% of 100 local authorities.

I'm not sure whether the apt phrase is "clutching at straws" or "straining at a gnat" or something else entirely. But what a convoluted contortion to perform to contrive a point to be chalked up as a win. It's almost equivalent to:

Only 10% of one legged men attending A&E on Thursday afternoons during Ramadan are seen within four hours.

It's also rather foolish to twist and turn like this as it simply invites the simpler, pithier riposte:

Most mainstream secondary schools performing above the national average are academies.

Which is also true.

LSN used to follow a policy of opposing academisation (especially when forced) but not slagging off academies as schools. Recently a number of posters seem to have changed direction on this. I'm not sure that's wise as -with academies accounting for a hefty percentage of secondaries- the chances are that any headteacher, teacher, parent or governor in the secondary phase could well be associated with an academy. ALL my 'local schools' are academies.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 02/07/2015 - 07:42

Barry - you're shooting the messenger. The figure came from the LGA/NFER research - I just reproduced it.

The article isn't just 'slagging off academies'. It's providing some balance to the Gov't promoted narrative that academy conversion, especially with a sponsor or within a chain, is the 'key' to an 'excellent education'. It isn't.

'Most mainstream secondary schools performing above the national average are academies' is true for the reason you said - the majority of secondary schools are academies. We could also say 'most mainstream primary schools performing above the national average are not academies' which, again, is because the majority of primary schools are non-academies.

But that's not what LGA/NFER said. It compared value added in two distinct categories: 20 of the largest academy chains and 100 LAs. Are you saying such a comparison is invalid? Remember: 4 of the largest chains - E-Act, TKAT, AET and Oasis have been criticised by Ofsted and/or the EFA. And yet they were allowed to grow rapidly because chains were doing an 'amazing job on the ground.' (Gove, July 2011).

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 02/07/2015 - 10:45

Janet - it's actually quite interesting to look at the detail on the relative performance of different types of school.

Sticking with the category 'mainstream secondaries' and performance at GCSE - 42% of community schools perform above the national average, 44% of academies and a whopping 63% of Voluntary Aided faith schools.

That suggests that in any comparison of performance between academies and 'non-academies', the latter's figures are significantly skewed upwards by the VA schools.

The VA schools are in some respects 'academies in all but name'. They are their own admissions authorities. They have little input from the LAs and have core support services elsewhere provided by LAs or academy chains provided by their own diocesan boards.

It would be interesting to discover what is the VA school "secret"; bottle it, and then share around both academy and community schools.

(All stats above sourced from Performance Tables).

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 02/07/2015 - 16:03

Barry - VA schools which have become academies are now recorded as academies. VA schools which are not academies are still LA maintained but are supported by a charitable (normally religious) foundation.

Here are numbers of remaining VA secondary schools. In some parts of England they're becoming an endangered species:

East Midlands: 9
East of England: 16
North East: 13
London: 71
North West: 97
South East: 41
South West: 12
West Midlands: 39
Yorkshire and Humber: 21

Some of these VA schools are selective but the majority define themselves as comprehensive. However, high-performing VA schools seem to have had a large number of previously-high (PH) attaining pupils and few previously low-attainers (PL) in their 2013/14 GCSE cohort.

A few examples:


Cardinal Vaughan: 73% PH, 24% (previously middle-attainers PM), 3% PL
Camden School for Girls: 48% PH, 45% PM, 7% PL
Colman Convent Girls': 58% PH, 40% PM, 2% PL

In the North West:

Canon Slade CoE: 58% PH, 38% PM, 4% PL
Hutton CoE, 48% PH, 46% PM, 7% PL

South East:

St John the Baptist Catholic Comp: 50% PH, 42% PM, 8% PL

It appears high-performing VA comps seem to have this pattern of skewed intake. Perhaps this might be something to do with their higher than average figure overall.

Shaun Whitfield's picture
Thu, 02/07/2015 - 13:27

Barry Wise: 'It would be interesting to discover what is the VA school “secret”'

I thought the research has already been done - it's covert selection, no secret at all.

Guest's picture
Thu, 02/07/2015 - 15:59

As I recollect previous LSN threads have highlighted that this may be the case for some VA schools but by no means all.

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 02/07/2015 - 16:34


Your figures do raise some interesting questions. For instance, what happens to the previously low attaining Roman Catholics? I had assumed that they must remain in the VA system somewhere: they may not be at Cardinal Vaughan, then maybe somewhere else. Therefore, prior attainment wouldn't really be a factor as they'd even out within the category.

But your stark figures about Cardinal Vaughan led me to look at the Roman Catholic primaries. Suddenly it becomes clear that Cardinal Vaughan is not necessarily operating some covert selection trick as Shaun suggests - because the Roman Catholic primaries that feed it have such good results.

There are 11 Catholic primaries in London with 100% achieving Level 4 at KS2 and more than 100 schools where more than 90% are achieving Level 4. As a pan-London school, this is the pool Cardinal Vaughan is fishing in and clearly it has no need to resort to any shenanigans to end up with only 3% PLs!

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 02/07/2015 - 16:45

Barry - the point remains that a high proportion of previous high-attainers will have higher results than schools where the intake is skewed to the bottom end.

As for Cardinal Vaughan, it doesn't have feeder schools but selects some of its pupils for musical aptitude and the rest by faith criteria. It also has a banding system but if it doesn't get enough applications for, say, the bottom band, it can add the spare places onto its other bands. This presumably is how it manages to get an intake skewed to the top end.

The Schools Adjudicator partly upheld a complaint about the academy's admissions last year. There's a link to the ruling here.

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 02/07/2015 - 17:20


(in reply to your 02.07. 4.45 - no reply button)

Then what is your answer to the mystery of what happens to the PL Roman Catholics?
Or are Catholics smarter than the rest of us? My point is that unless they are somehow dumped outside the Catholic school system (which seems unlikely/downright impossible) they are presumably still reflected within the VA schools being compared with community schools.

It is also, of course, the case that there are community schools in affluent neighbourhoods with intakes that you would describe as 'skewed', so I'm not sure this is the answer to the mystery yet.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 03/07/2015 - 10:42

Barry - not all VA schools are RC. Most are in fact CoE. And some VA schools are grammars and can select.

Your initial comparison was between 'community schools', academies and VA schools. But there are other types of schools: VC and foundation. What are the GCSE results for these? Or are they lumped in with 'community schools' in the sense they are still maintained by the LA.

As you say, there are likely to be community schools whose intake is skewed to the top end. There are ways by which this could happen:

1 The admission criteria doesn't adhere to the Admission Code and discriminates against particular groups. This is unlikely, but not impossible, because community schools (and VC schools) are not their own admission authorities and adhere to the LA admission criteria. However, it isn't unknown for the latter to go against the Code but this would then apply to all the LA's schools. The Adjucator has ruled against LAs in the past.
2 The school's catchment serves an area which contains a majority of people in jobs which require high educational qualifications. Their children are likely to follow suit. This applies for parts of university towns, for example.
3 The school sends out subtle messages which deter low-attaining pupils. It says it's 'unashamedly academic', or gains a reputation for educating high fliers.
4 The uniform is expensive; the school hints that voluntary contributions are required.

CORRECTION - spelling error (You're for Your) has been put right. It must be the heat.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 04/07/2015 - 08:20

Barry - I have considered your comment about the LGA/NFER stat comparing value-added at GCSE between 20 large academy chains and 100 LAs. I've added an addendum to the original article.

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