The Education White Paper, published today, confirms the forced conversion of all English schools to become academies by 2022. This will cost hundreds of millions, at least, and cause massive disruption. As evidence that academies improve performance, the white paper makes just two claims (in section 4.3):
1) "2015 results show that primary sponsored academies open for two years have improved their results, on average, by 10 percentage points since opening, more than double the rate of improvement in local authority maintained schools over the same period."
2) "2015 GCSE results show that secondary converter academies are performing 7.2 percentage points above the national average, with 64.3% of pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs, including English and maths."
To describe this as a flimsy justification for the largest structural change in decades would be an understatement.
Converter academies are those schools allowed to convert because they were already rated "Good" or "Outstanding". Their results will always have been above average and so the fact that they are still above average says nothing about the benefits of conversion.
A proper comparison has been undertaken by NFER (National Foundation for Education Research). It published its report yesterday and stated: "There was no significant difference in overall school performance between converter academies and similar maintained schools on any measure."
Both Nicky Morgan and Michael Gove have greeted each year's exam results with the claim that converter academies have higher absolute results (ignoring the fact that the stronger performing schools were those that converted) and claiming that the increase in sponsored academies was greater than that in non-academies.
Schools that start with lower previous year results grow their results at a faster rate. The fact that more sponsored academies start with worse results should mean that their average growth will be greater than that for schools overall, even though their results grow at a slower rate than similar schools. However this year the government was not even able to make that claim.
Read point one carefully. It is not saying that all sponsored primaries perform better than the average. It is not even saying that sponsored primaries that have been open for two years or more perform better. It is only claiming that the specific subset of sponsored primaries that have been open for two years, and no more than two years, performed well. (Source of data is here).
If similar primaries are compared, then local authority maintained schools clearly outperform sponsored academies, increasing their key stage 2 SATs results by an average 6% pts more on average (or almost two pupils per school in a one form entry primary):
A massive restructure without evidence
The white paper states that the changes are needed because the recent international PISA comparison showed "our education standards have remained static, at best, whilst other countries have moved ahead." While this view can be challenged (see here) we can all agree that we would like to see our results improve.
However, to quote Bernie Sanders, "just because something needs to be done, there is no reason to do something stupid".
The forced conversion to academies is equivalent to responding to Spanish football clubs being better than British ones by deciding to build lots of new football stadiums. It isn't the solution Spain used, there is no evidence it would bring benefit, it would cost hundreds of millions of pounds and cause huge disruption.
Academisation has no more evidence than that would have. It isn't the method Finland or the East Asian countries used to succeed, it will cost hundreds of millions and cause huge disruption.