One thousand ‘failing’ schools have been ‘transformed under the leadership of strong sponsors’, Education Secretary Nick Morgan told the Tory Conference in October. But a Freedom of Information request shows Morgan's figure doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. First, there’s a problem with Morgan’s definition of ‘failing’. I understand this to mean a school judged Inadequate by Ofsted.
But Morgan’s definition is a little more fluid. According to the Department for Education (DfE), Morgan was talking about ‘more than 1000 local authority schools which have become sponsored academies since May 2010, typically these are schools that were rated as inadequate or requires improvement by Ofsted and may also have been below floor standards.’ Note the use of the word ‘typically’. Also note that ‘failing’ has been widened to scoop up schools which required improvement. It’s not the first time ‘failing’ has been redefined – the New Schools Network, the taxpayer funded charity which promotes free schools, did the same trick in August. And these ‘failing’ schools ‘may’ have been below the floor - or they may not have been.
Morgan applied this elastic definition to arrive at a figure of 1000+ but the DfE wasn’t inclined to give me details. The information was available elsewhere. They pointed me towards a spreadsheet which listed the most recent inspection results for sponsored academies*. But the spreadsheet didn’t contain all the information I needed. It did not give inspection results for predecessor schools. The only previous inspections listed were those which took place when schools were already sponsored academies. And the list contained all sponsored academies including 200+ started under Labour and not just those created since 2010. The data provided did, however, challenge the claim that 1000 LA schools had been transformed. The spreadsheet listed the most recent inspection of fewer than 900 sponsored academies. Even if all these were Good or better, that is not 1000 schools. And, as I’ve already pointed out, just over 200 of this not-quite 900 were opened under Labour.
The information I’ve been given makes it difficult to weed out the Labour academies. The figures below, therefore, are the most recent judgements for the slightly-less-than 900 sponsored academies which have been inspected: 90+ were Outstanding. Just 20+ of these had previous inspection results. Just over 400 were Good. About 100 of these had an earlier inspection result listed. Just under 300 Required Improvement. About 90 had been previously inspected. Just under 90 were Inadequate. About 40 had been previously inspected. The figures show about 500 sponsored academies were Good or better at their last inspection. That doesn’t quite tally with 1000 schools ‘transformed’ by ‘strong sponsors’.
As only 120+ had previous inspection judgements listed, it would be misleading to say all these 500 had improved their Ofsted rating. Some did, some remained the same and some fell. Morgan’s definition of ‘transformed’ may, of course, be as shifting as her definition of ‘failing’. It may include a rise in Key Stage 2 Sat or GCSE results. It may include the arrival of an executive principal or academy sponsor who has publicly supported the Government (even maybe donated money to the Tory party). It might perhaps include a new uniform and portentous motto. What is clear, however, is that the figure of 1000 local authority schools ‘transformed’ by sponsorship is misleading spin. This is something MPs should bear in mind as the Education and Adoption Bill, which makes academy conversion easier, moves through Parliament. NOTES *Management information - Schools - 30 September 2015 downloadable here. Click on ‘Provider Level Data’. Enable editing then select ‘Academy sponsor led’ under ‘Type of School’.