The DfE's press release on today's GCSE data was originally titled "academies lead the way as school performance tables are published", as the URL indicates. In fact the data clearly shows that sponsored academies are improving at a consistently slower rate than similar schools in the local authority maintained sector:
The data is clear. When grouped with similar schools, sponsored academy results improved less between 2014 and 2015 than non academies.
(Full table below: Schools are grouped by quintiles, so roughly same number of sponsored academies in each group. Total: 438 sponsored academies, 1,222 LA maintained school that had GCSE results in both 2014 and 2015)
This is the latest set of data which shows that sponsored academies not only do not accelerate improvement in schools, but actually lag behind. The DfE data on primary schools revealed that sponsored academies improved at a slower rate than non academies, whether for level 4, level 4b or level 5 and for both 2013 to 2015 and 2014 to 2015.
In the past government ministers have always claimed better performance for sponsored academies because their average improvement is greater than that for all other schools. This has always been a misleading comparison, as sponsored academies start from a lower base (and, as the chart above shows, schools starting from a lower base increase their results faster). However this year they have been unable to maintain that claim, as sponsored academies, despite their lower starting point, increased at the same rate as all schools.
It is now four years since the DfE has made any attempt to claim that sponsored academies improve at a faster rate than similar non academies. This is not surprising as, since many GCSE equivalents were removed from the GCSE benchmark, the data has shown that sponsored academies improve their results at a slower rate.
This year the DfE press release was reduced to making this claim: "Results in sponsored academies open for 2 years have improved by 2.3 percentage points since 2014." There is no attempt to compare this to non academies and the 2.3% figure is not in any case particularly impressive. The chart above shows that non academies in the two lower quintiles (from which new sponsored academies are likely to have started) improved on average by 7.2% and 4.5% respectively.
The reason that the DfE chose such a specific subset (sponsored academies open for 2 years) may be because many of the results show a poor picture for sponsored academies. For instance, sponsored academies open for five or more years saw their results, on average, fall between 2013 and 2015: from 52.5% in 2013 to 47.6% in 2014 and 47.1% in 2015. (From this DfE publication.)
What is the problem with sponsored academies?
Sponsored secondary academies improve at a slower rate than similar non academies. Sponsored primary academies improve at a slower rate than similar non academies. Schools that are rated by Ofsted as "inadequate" are more likely to remain "inadequate" if they become sponsored academies.
I have an upcoming post planned suggesting that one of the key priorities in education is to address the question of why sponsored academies perform so badly, and what they could learn from the success of schools in the local authority maintained sector. This latest data increases the urgency of that question.
The school-by-school data on GCSE results is available here. (KS4 results, CSV)
Data: Change in GCSE benchmark, 2014 to 15
|2014 GCSE range||Sponsored Academies||Non academies|
|0 - 34%||5.8%||7.2%|
|25% - 39%||1.6%||4.5%|
|40% - 46%||0.5%||1.8%|
|47% - 55%||-3.1%||0.2%|