Stop exaggerating how academies improve schools – that was the message from the Education Select Committee before the Election. But Schools Minister Nicky Morgan continues to blow the trumpet for academy sponsorship despite growing evidence that academization doesn’t inevitably improve schools. The opposite is the case - sponsored academies are more likely to stay inadequate or become inadequate than non-academies.
So convinced is Morgan that sponsorship is the answer that she’s announced today the first five ‘outstanding’ academy sponsors receiving part of the Northern Sponsor £10m fund to set up seven ‘high-performing academy hubs’. These are:
1 Bright Tribe had no academies before 2014 – it now has six. None of its academies has been inspected since Bright Tribe took them over.
2 Tauheedul grew from an Outstanding Muslim Voluntary Aided Girls’ School. The trust has opened nine single sex Muslim faith free schools since 2013. Three of these have been inspected – all judged Outstanding.
3 Wakefield Academies Trust faced focussed academy inspections in May 2015. Inspectors praised the Trust’s ability to make a difference but warned it needed to ‘revisit the scheme of delegation’ in the light of the Trust’s larger size.
4 REAch4 – no such Trust exists. It’s likely Morgan means REAch2, a rapidly growing academy trust which now has 49 primary academies. One school was not convinced about academy conversion with REAch2 – Dunchurch Infant School, Warwickshire. It resisted conversion and has remained a Foundation School.
5 Outwood Grange has 16 academies: three Outstanding, five Good and one Requires Improvement. Seven have not been fully inspected since becoming Outwood academies.
These five Trusts have one thing in common: they have expanded rapidly in the last couple of years. The 2013 Academies Commission warned that chains should not grow too quickly. The Department for Education (DfE) ignored this – possibly because then Education Secretary Michael Gove had said he wanted chains to grow as quickly as possible. But since then, some rapidly growing chains have been censured by the Education Funding Agency (eg AET) or Ofsted (eg AET, TKAT, CfBT).
There is a danger that the Trusts above could overextend themselves. Morgan is convinced the reforms of the last five years are bearing fruit. One million more pupils are in Good or Outstanding schools, she said. FullFact found this was correct but the rise was partly due to changes in inspection practice. FullFact also found the number of pupils in Outstanding schools had fallen from a peak in 2012. In any case, the rise in proportion of Good or better schools is in the primary sector where a minority of schools are academies not in the heavily academized secondary phase.
If academization were a magic bullet, then this situation surely would be reversed. Morgan repeated her claim that recent reforms had increased the proportion of primary children gaining Level Four in Key Stage 2 SATs and were therefore able to read, write and do sums ‘properly’. But as we’ve said before, pupils with Level Three can do these things. Morgan's use of ‘properly’ – added after the UK Statistics Authority censured her about the way she used literacy and numeracy data – is inexact. It makes a good soundbite but it’s woolly waffle.
More children are on the road to becoming ‘confident readers’ thanks to the Government’s ‘focus on phonics’, Morgan claimed. But, as we’ve said before, DfE-commissioned research found teachers were combining phonics with other methods. Morgan says she’ll never tire of repeating the factoids in the last three paragraphs. Consequently, it appears I’ll have to continue to dispute them.