Ofsted reveals that a school is six times as likely to remain inadequate if it becomes a sponsored academy

Henry Stewart's picture

Press release: In response to a question from Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Ofsted has replied with the data on the latest inspections for schools previously rated Inadequate: PQ HL4539 Lord Hunt For “inadequate” schools that become sponsored academies, 12% remain inadequate (1 in 8) compared to just 2% (1 in 50) of those that remain in the local authority maintained sector. The Education and Adoption Bill is based on the assumption that the only way to improve schools was to convert to become a sponsored academy and join a Multi Academy Trust.

This data casts serious doubt on that assumption. “There is a general assumption, in the Government and the media, that becoming a sponsored academy is the only way to improve a school,“ commented Lord Hunt. “However this data, from Ofsted, suggest the opposite. A school is far more likely to improve its Ofsted status if it remains in the maintained sector.”

For schools rated “inadequate”:

  • Of those that became sponsored academies 12% remained “inadequate” at their next inspection, compared to 2% of maintained schools.
  • 53% of these sponsored academies remained either “inadequate” or “Requires Improvement”, compared to 38% of maintained schools.
  • Of schools that stayed in the local authority maintained sector, 62% become “Good” or “Outstanding” compared to 47% for sponsored academies.

The one area in which sponsored academies do better is that 6% become “Outstanding” compared to 2% of maintained schools. This backs up previous data indicating a small number of academy chains (also known as Multi Academy Trusts) do well, but most underperform compared to the maintained sector. “This backs up the analysis we have carried out at Local Schools Network on how likely different types of schools are to improve their results”, explains Henry Stewart, co-founder of the Local Schools Network.

“For primary schools, if you compare similar schools (by their prior year results) then maintained schools improved their benchmark results by 6.4%PQ HL4539 Lord Hunt more than sponsored academies from 2013 to 2015. This gap is so large that it is statistically significant at the 99% level. “The data is clear, at primary and secondary level. There can now be no doubt that, on average, conversion to become a sponsored academy slows the improvement of a struggling school.”

Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, added: “The Government’s whole schools strategy is based on the dogmatic belief that conversion to academy status by definition improves standards. These latest findings show this to be nonsense. It is in fact the proven structural support of maintained schools which is more likely to achieve results. But the Government’s educational vandalism is systematically undermining the role of local authorities in education, to the detriment of our children.” Contacts Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, 07774 358407 (text only) or via Henry Stewart, Local Schools Network, 07870 682442 Caroline Cowie, NUT Press Office, 07879 480061

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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 12:59

Barry - where is your evidence that 'most of the problem schools' which became sponsored academies failed to improve under LA stewardship? There is no reliable evidence that a significant number of schools 'languished' in failure and ratcheted up consecutive Inadequate judgements while LA maintained.

There are, however, schools have been bounced into academy conversion on the strength of one Inadequate judgement before the schools have had chance to improve or (better still) are showing signs of improvement (this, as in the case of Downhills, allows the sponsor to claim credit for any subsequent improvement). There are schools which jumped before being pushed (see here and here). And there are also schools which were converted to sponsored academies after they had been upgraded to Good (eg Ryhall CoE primary school).

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 12:59

Barry - It isn't true that LAs will 'have had three years' to address 'coasting' schools. The definition of 'coasting' isn't yet set in stone and is in any case contentious (eg it's unlikely schools with an intake skewed to the top end would be defined as 'coasting'). The schools in Lord Hunt's letter were not 'coasting' but ones judged Inadequate.

What the data shows is that schools can and do improve under LA stewardship.

agov's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 13:01

Or perhaps that's a bit glib and that actually Henry plays the DfE at their own game and wins.

Do we just assume that sponsored academies must have been 'problem' schools? Is it not convenient to recognise that some schools may have been in the sort of circumstances described by Roger re Hackney Downs school? Are there no sponsored academies that LAs had previously considered to be failing but could do little or nothing about because Ofsted had rated them as Outstanding? Were no sponsored schools 'improving' (in terms of exam results) before they were privatised taken over? Is it not possible for a LA (or any) school to have a three-year period of so-called 'coasting' entirely due to the cohorts?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 14:02

Barry, Janet is right. Let us not forget that the DfE claim is that Academisation does improve schools that LAs have failed to 'sort out'. In fact that is the entire rationale for the English marketised education system. Henry's repeated disclosures blow the whole dodgy argument out of the water. The spin merchants at the DfE will at this very moment be desperately trying to come up with an answer/red herring.

Where Academisation gives the illusion of such success it is usually because of fiddling with the admissions arrangements so as to obtain an intake with a better cognitive ability profile. Other strategies include mass permanent exclusions and other less legal methods of persuading parents to take their less promising children elsewhere.

We had plenty of debate about the slippery nature of coasting on an earlier thread.

See also


Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 15:21

Janet + Roger

But the problem is that Henry's research certainly does not " blow the whole dodgy argument out of the water." It is itself a fairly dodgy proposition. And if the TES article Janet cites is anything to go by, it doesn’t settle the issue. There the DfE spokesman is quoted as saying:

“The NUT and Local Schools Network’s analysis is utter rubbish. Obviously local authority schools appear to improve quicker, because their very worst schools are taken out of their control and turned into academies.

Like Janet, I wish these spokesmen would resume using the traditional courtesies…. But I have to say the spokesperson has got a point. Henry is, in the final analysis, comparing LA success-stories with LA failures – which tells us precisely nothing of value.

One thing is certain though – every school that’s limping rather too slowly forward under an academy sponsor was once an LA’s responsibility. And people are entitled to ask why, if that LA is so good at school improvement, didn’t it improve the school in question in all the years it held that responsibility?

The other thing that’s never looked at is school closure. On 1 September 2013 there were 456 schools in special measures. During the following year, 146 were released from special measures (i.e. 'improved'). But a larger number (191) were closed. Some would re-open as sponsored academies under new branding. But others wouldn’t. You can’t really compare the records of sponsors against LAs without taking into account the terminal write offs.


Janet asks where the evidence is for repeated or prolonged failure. Certainly the government has said in successive annual reports on academies that
many sponsored academies have replaced schools where results have, for years, stubbornly refused to improve. (Academies Annual Report 2012-13 and 2013-14)

I will see if I can find some hard numbers on that assertion. It won't always be about Ofsted inadequate judgments, I'm guessing..... below-floor, poor attainment in comparison with comparable schools etc. will form part of a bundle of metrics for 'failure'.

Meanwhile, I think Downhills is a weak prop for any counter argument. The judge at judiicial review did say its past performance had been ‘egregious’. And Haringey had one of the worst records (the worst, even?) for numbers/proportion of schools below floor.

Henry Stewart's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 17:24


Your argument, and that of the DfE, rests on the argument that the schools that convert to be sponsored academies are the "worst" schools. I would be intrigued if you can find any evidence of this, as the DfE certianly hasn't provided it.

Whether an "inadequate" school becomes a sponsored academy or remains in the maintained sector is down to many reasons. One of them is the political complexion of the LA.

My other data compares directly like-for-like based on their KS2 or GCSE results. It shows clearly that maintained schools see greater improvement in results than sponsored academies starting at the same level.

The government has been asked to produce evidence that sponsored academies perform better than similar maintained schools. Both in the Commons (Nick Gibb) and in the Lords (Lord Nash), it has failed to do so. I would suggest that is because that evidence simply does not exist. (I am planning a post on this.)

Are there schools that have "stubbornly refused to improve". There are undoubtedly some performing below their potential. But look at those stats. Of all the schools rated inadequate, that stayed in the LA maintained sector, only 2% remained inadequate at their next inspection. Yes, 98% improved (with 62% becoming Good or Outstanding). Thats a pretty impressive track record.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 31/12/2015 - 07:28

Jane - I've noticed that Ofsted reports for predecessor schools are not automatically available on Ofsted's website. It is possible to request them - I've done so - but that's no substitute for the old reports being instantly available.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 31/12/2015 - 07:52

Barry - I love the measured response from the DfE 'spokesperson' - the word 'rubbish' is such a considered comment.

The chart accompanying the letter to Lord Hunt showed ALL 963 schools previously judged Inadequate. 406 of these remained maintained schools while 557 became sponsored academies. All the 406 maintained schools have been inspected again and all but 7 (2%) had been upgraded (ie improved). 214 of the sponsored academies where predecessor schools were inadequate have been inspected at least once. The letter gave data for the first post-conversion inspection (some may have been inspected again - these subsequent inspections may or may not indicate improvement). 26 of these (12%) remained inadequate (ie did not improve).

The Government claims academy conversion especially with a sponsor is the best way to improve schools. These figures throw doubt on that claim. And it should be remember the NAO found informal intervention such as local support was more effective than formal intervention such as academy conversion.

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 31/12/2015 - 14:40


According to the Guardian, Downhills had been below floor standard every year for five years before Gove decided to act.

That would cover much of the period when the school had moved from special measures to 'Satisfactory'.

You focus on Ofsted overall effectiveness. But that isn’t enough to go on. For instance, of all the primary schools that were below floor in 2010, only 10% were rated Inadequate by Ofsted.

DfE would probably have considered attainment trajectories, five-year averages and so on.

When you put it all together – Special Measures in 2003, followed by five years below floor, plus the other metrics you get by the end of 2011 just what I was talking about: a school that had proved intractable to local SI efforts over 7 years or more.


Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 31/12/2015 - 14:44

The Academies Annual Report is a report made to Parliament each year by DfE in fulfillment of a statutory duty. Surely the statutory requirement extends to it being truthful?

Barney Angliss's picture
Thu, 31/12/2015 - 15:02

Excellent discussion, thank you all.

HENRY: am I right in thinking it is the RSCs and HTBs who argue for / prioritise schools for sponsored academisation?

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 31/12/2015 - 15:58


There is no denying that it is an impressive track record. If a decade ago LAs had been half as good at SI as they are now; if back then Ofsted HMIs had provided the kind of ‘getting to good’ assistance they do now; if as much thought and energy had gone into forming clusters and federations and organising school-to-school support then; if student achievement had been as high then as it is now or behaviour and attendance had been up to today’s standards; if the proportion of schools being good or outstanding had been as high as today….. then maybe things could have turned out rather differently. But it’s all come a little too late.

agov's picture
Fri, 01/01/2016 - 10:46

Doesn't have to be the whole truth nor entirely factual. Effectively it just has to be not blatantly deceiving. The government presenting its own view of the state of play in its Academies Annual Report could not be deceiving as no-one would be deceived into supposing it to be anything other than the government's view of the success of its own policy.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/01/2016 - 13:14

Barry - check out the primary source rather than a newspaper article. School performance tables for Downhills from 2011-2006 show the percentage reaching the benchmark of 60% was as follows (note: there were changes to the content of the tables which makes year-on-year comparison unreliable):

2011 (results were known before Gove announced academization of Downhills): 63% (ie above the 60% floor target)

2010: Downhills joined nationwide boycott of Key Stage 2 Sats

2009: 40% (much below floor target)

2008 (results were given for each Sat test): English, 58%, Maths 65%, Science 70%

2007: English 59%, Maths 59%, Science 72%

2006: English 57%, Maths 63%, Science 67%.

There were no results in 2010. During the five years 2011-2006 where tests were taken, results at Downhills only slipped significantly below the floor target in one year: 2009. In four of the five years, results were at or slightly above the floor target.

As I said, Downhills is emblematic of the approach of the last and present Government regarding academy conversion.

School Performance Tables can be found here.

Barry Wise's picture
Sat, 02/01/2016 - 09:00


check out the primary source rather than a newspaper article.

But your own primary source figures would seem to confirm the Guardian's statement, showing below 60% stretching back five years.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 02/01/2016 - 09:38

Barry - not sure if you're still recovering from New Years' Eve, but Downhills' results don't show performance to be below 60% for all five years. If we ignore the high science results because the figures for science stopped being included in league tables, the last five years (including 2011) show there were only two years when the results were lower than 60%: 2009 - the very poor year - and 2007 when results were just 1% below target (average of English and Maths combined = 59%). The combined average for English and Maths in 2008 was 61.5% and in 2006, 60% (bang on target).

Of course, you could be including the 0% for 2010 when Downhills boycotted SATs. But that would be a little misleading, don't you think? A cynic might say that's just the kind of thing the DfE would do - include a Nil result when SATS were not taken and present it as 'proof' the school is failing.

Or perhaps you were only looking at English, which were just below target (and never by more than 3%). But, again, that would be a little misleading.

Barry Wise's picture
Sat, 02/01/2016 - 10:42


I don't think the holiday hangover is affecting me, and if memory serves me right I the KS2 floor in the 2003 to 10 period was 65% not 60%.

Schools were required in the earlier part of that period to consider Maths and English separately: getting 65% of the cohort over the threshold in English and 65% in Maths.
Those clearing the threshold in each subject could be different students. Later it was beefed up to require students to reach level 4 in BOTH subjects.

Whatever - Downhills never got both subjects above 60 and didn't hit 65 in either.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 31/12/2015 - 08:27

Barry - there was no judicial review re Downhills. Permission was refused by the judge who described Downhills' performance over 'an extended period of several years' as 'egregious'.

But Downills' performance had actually risen from 40% reaching the benchmark in 2009 to 63% in 2011. That's an improvement rate in two years of over 50%. A cynic might say the Government would have trumpeted such an improvement rate if Downhills had already been a sponsored academy.

The Ofsted judgements for Downhills since 2003 are as follows:

2003: Special Measures

2005: Satisfactory

2008: Satisfactory

Jan 2011: Inadequate (but quality of pupils' learning and progress was Satisfactory).

Sept 2011: Monitoring found 'clear trend of improvement' and 'progress has accelerated'. The LA had provided 'good support'.

This indicates Downhills was ripe for academy conversion - a school which was improving.
It was after this that Gove said Downhills was 'failing' (ignoring evidence to the contrary). A second visit by Ofsted led by the same inspector who noted the trend of improvement in September took place in January 2012. She reversed her opinion made just three months previously and agreed with Gove (conveniently, a cynic might say).

In July 2012, Downhills was one of 17 schools nationally whose work was chosen to be displayed in the National Gallery following the nationwide 'Take One Picture' challenge. The work for this would have been done at the time Gove and others said the school could only improve by becoming a sponsored academy. The high standard of work could not be possible, surely, in a school which was as bad as Gove claimed it was?

Downhills is emblematic of the approach of the last and present Government regarding academy conversion.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 31/12/2015 - 08:51

Barry - your evidence for the number of schools which became sponsored academies after years of languishing in failure is from the Government's annual promotion of academies in its Academies Annual Report. They repeat the Government's assertion that 'many sponsored academies have replaced schools where results have, for years, stubbornly refused to improve.'

Just because the Government asserts something doesn't make it true. And 'many' is a little vague, I think.

I commented on the 2013/14 Academies Annual Report here. It shows the report is one-sided, ignores academy failures and downgrades the work of non-academies.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 09:17

Ofsted's letter to Lord Hunt also casts doubt on Nicky Morgan's claim at the Tory Conference 2015 that 1000 'failing' schools had been transformed after becoming sponsored academies. The DfE hadn't been able to produce the evidence for Morgan's statement when I submitted an FoI request in early October. Ofsted's letter confirms Morgan's claim was exaggerated spin.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 11:57

According to the TES coverage of Lord Hunt's letter, a DfE spokesperson 'called the analysis “misleading” as more than half of the sponsored academies previously rated inadequate (343 out of 557) have still not had a follow-up inspection.'

But 241 had been inspected since conversion to sponsored academies. That's enough to test Government claims that academy conversion especially with a sponsor is the best way to turn around schools judged Inadequate.

But it isn't.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 12:31

The problem with this post - as with much of Henry's research in this area - is that glib conclusions about which schools would be "more likely" to improve or improve faster rest on invidious comparisons.

Schools do not choose on an either/or basis whether to pursue school improvement via their LA or an academy sponsor.

Most of the problem schools that became sponsored academies did so after their LAs had tried (sometimes repeatedly over years) to improve them, but found they were unable to do so.

Or to put it another way, many sponsored academies are schools that have proved intractable to local SI measures.

So, even though Henry does try to find 'similar schools' for his comparisons, what he ends up comparing are schools that LAs have tried but failed to improve (sponsored academies) on the one hand, with schools that LAs have succeeded in improving on the other. No wonder the latter win out!

The fairer comparison would be between sponsored academies and schools that were so bad that closure was the only option.

All this research shows in the end is that schools that LA's could do nothing to improve take a while to improve under academy sponsors too. Wow. Who knew? It's hardly a big revelation. And it's not really of much use in the bigger current policy discussion either.

For the same will be true of coasting schools - in that LAs will have had three years or more to address problems before forced academisation is on the agenda. Those schools, therefore, that do face forced academisation will not be ones that would do better under LA tutelage, but those schools that LAs have tried and failed to sort out over a three year period.

Jane Eades's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 14:24

This relates just to schools which became sponsored academies. The saddest bit of the story is the number of schools which were deemed to be good or outstanding which after becoming converter academies are now either inadequate or requiring improvement - in other words, becoming an academy has led to a deterioration.

Jane Eades's picture
Wed, 30/12/2015 - 14:25

PS no wonder it is becoming more difficult to find the Ofsted ratings for schools before they became academies!

Walter Oakes's picture
Thu, 31/12/2015 - 10:08

Fascinating article and illuminating discussion - thanks to all concerned. Unfortunately though, I can't help feeling that so long debate is focused upon the legitimacy of the findings, the possible causes will fail to be addressed. Having worked for a number of academies, both individual and as part of chains, I would suggest that overwork and a culture of unrealistic expectations are what impact morale most heavily. Anybody required to give nine hours per day in the workplace followed by another three or more at home cannot reasonably be expected to perform at their best for sustained periods - and quite obviously the students' attainment suffers as a result.

I've no answers of course, other than the old chestnuts of industrial action and scrapping of the inspectorate. But, though I love the contact time, after nearly twenty years in the profession I plan to be out within five terms. I will miss what I do but it is simply unwise to consider in a situation that produces the degree of stress created by teaching in its present form. If the stories are true that c.50% of teachers feel the same, then something will need to be done soon before the outcomes are truly catastrophic for the students and for the continuation of the profession as a whole.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Sat, 02/01/2016 - 12:34

I might be wrong here, but I suspect, Henry, that you don't subscribe totally to the DfE argument that these measures of attainment equate to an overall successful education system. Am I right in thinking that you simply have to challenge the arguments put up for academisation - success in key stages etc- because these are the justifications for the academies project. It's right to subject them to close scrutiny because they are the DfE's basis for their actions and academies are not, it seems, proving to be the magic bullet in education.

I sit watching and reading from the other side of Offa's Dyke in the comfort of not having to contend with this permanent revolution in schooling. We've more than enough problems of our own to deal with from what I observe as a parent/ former teaching assistant, without the drain on time, resources and energy which constant change demands. Wales is still, I believe, the most economically deprived of the national regions. I've been catching up with holiday reading over the Christmas period and was struck by a criticism of Ken Robinson's about the 'command control' approach to education systems. What keeps coming through to me in the threads I read on LSN is the lack of trust successive governments have had in the teaching body.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 02/01/2016 - 15:13

You are right Michele. The problem is that because (almost) everybody has attended a school, everybody thinks they understand all there is to know about education, teaching and learning.

Unfortunately observation, however intimate, is no guarantee of understanding, because what you see is determined by what you already believe to be true, not the other way round. (Obviously I do not mean you personally - just can't bring myself to use 'one' as a pronoun.)

Here are two examples from the world of physics. Since the ancestors of Homo Sapiens descended from the trees we have been dropping rocks and throwing them at our prey and each other. Yet over all those millennia no-one noticed that the big, heavy rocks fall at the same rate as the small, light ones. That is because when you hold a big heavy one in one hand and a small light one in the other, the heavier rock presses down with much more force than the lighter one. Therefore surely when you let it go the heavier rock will obviously whack into the ground faster than the lighter one. Galileo was the first person to ask himself if this was really true and conduct an experiment. Even then few took much notice and of those that did most did not believe the truth. It took Newton to explain what was going on and this required mathematics and algebra.

My second example concerns flight. The same ancestors will have observed the flight of birds. They all flap their wings. Therefore all the subsequent attempts at human flight involved wing-flapping. The truth is that although wing flapping is universal in birds it is not the vital feature of flight, which lies in the subtle cross sectional shape of wings.

What is that boring old fart of a retired physics teacher going on about? - I hear you ask.

The point is that however counter-intuitive is physics, it has nothing on education, where 'common sense' almost always leads to the entirely wrong answers. For example, telling is not teaching and listening is not learning even though both processes are often observed to be involved (like wing flapping and flight).



Your question is, why do governments distrust teachers when it comes to education?

Because teachers give politicians answers that either they don't want to hear or believe. Perhaps for the very good reason that they rightly understand that this could be a hard sell to voters who can be easily persuaded to reject the truth in favour of the 'forces of darkness' that appeal to common sense.

We need very wise and principled politicians, but where are they?

Or else responsibility for education and schools must be taken away from politicians through the creation of a National Education Commission that is above party politics, as I advocate in 'Learning Matters'. Many others take also share this view, but we are making little headway.

agov's picture
Sun, 03/01/2016 - 10:36

The DfE's measures of attainment as a justification for its academisation policy may be a substitute for an overall successful education policy.

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