A U turn? Or a different approach to forcing thousands of schools to become academies?

Henry Stewart's picture

Nicky Morgan yesterday announced that the government had "abandoned" plans to force all schools to become academies. This had to happen, due to the massive unpopularity of the proposal - even among Tory MPS. But is the government just set to find another route to the same aim?

It is already the case that schools rated "inadequate" are receiving immediate academy orders, under the terms of the Education and Adoption Bill. The numbers of these orders could increase hugely when the "coasting" definition is introduced after the 2016 results. And Morgan defined two circumstances in which all schools in a local authority would be converted:

  • Where it is clear that the local authority can no longer viably support its remaining schools because too many schools have already become academies.
  • Where the local education authority consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools.

The trick will be to include as many local authorities as possible, while avoiding the Conservative local authorities - as that would upset the Tory back benchers. The big question is how the government will define failing to meet "a minimum performance threshold".

One approach would be to simply look at the Ofsted ratings and set a minimum % Good or Outstanding. Taking the Ofsted judgements as of December 2015, these are the twenty local authorities with the highest % of schools (primary and secondary) rated "Required Improvement" or "Inadequate".


LASchools% RI / InadLA control
Isle of Wight5235%NOC (Ind/Con)
Havering8228%NOC (Ind/Con)
North East Lincolnshire6325%NOC (Labour)
Walsall12125%NOC (Lab)
Thurrock5225%NOC (Lab)
Bracknell Forest3924%Con
West Berkshire8324%Con
Cambridgeshire25723%NOC (Con)
East Riding of Yorkshire14922%Con


No, this looks unlikely to be the criteria as it includes nine authorities that are either Conservative controlled or where Conservatives are the largest party. So expect to see this combined with other performance measures.

Schools Week has noted that Michael Wilshaw, in the 2015 Ofsted Annual Report, named thirteen "failing" local authorities in the North. (There were also apparently three "failing" authorities in the South but he chose not to name these.) As Schools Week notes, twelve of these are Labour and the 13th has Labour as the largest party.

So why the difference from the table based purely on Ofsted judgements? Firstly Wilshaw's figures are based purely on secondary schools, although the majority of schools in any local authority are primaries. The above table is based on primary and secondary schools combined.

Secondly it includes two other criteria. To be included they must also (as well as less than 60% of secondaries being rated "Good" or "Outstanding") "have lower than national GCSE attainment and make less than national levels of expected progress."

Both these measures are closely related to school intake. If a school has an intake whose academic ability is below the national average, it is likely to have both GCSE results and levels of expected progress below the national average. (Levels of progress are not a neutral value added measure. The % achieving the required 3 levels of progress is far higher students achieving level 5 at age 11 than for those achieving level 4, for whom it is in turn higher than those on level 3. For more on this, see here.)

We know that areas with high levels of disadvantaged pupils are both more likely to have low academic achievement at school entry (due to the achievement gap in existence across nearly all schools) and are also more likely to be Labour. By using criteria that match closely with initial academic ability, rather than any genuine measure of school achievement, you will hit more Labour areas. And avoid areas that have strong intakes but whose schools are coasting.

Let us watch with interest. But it seems likely that the government will follow the Ofsted example and find it easy to target Labour Councils and so avoid upsetting their backbench MPs.


Data note

The table is a fairly simple calcuation from the Ofsted monthly management report, available here. With polticial control added thanks to Wikipedia.







Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 08/05/2016 - 08:07

I hope the Tory MPs and Councillors who rightly protested about the unfairness of forcibly converting schools which are good or better extend that concern to good or better schools outside their own areas.  It would be hypocritical if they did not.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 08/05/2016 - 08:33

Knowsley would be one of the Labour LAs in the frame for mass enforced academy conversions.  Knowsley is the 'go-to' LA if politicians and Ofsted want to kick an LA because GCSE results are low and there is not one secondary school (out of five inspected)  which is good or better.  But such criticism is disingenuous as I describe here.

Making all Knowsley schools into academies because of Ofsted criticism of secondary schools would be unfair.  There are 54 primary schools in Knowsley (52 have been inspected).  The judgements are as follows:

6  Outstanding

37  Good

5 Require Improveent

1 Inadequate

It would be wrong to forcibly convert all Knowsley's schools when the vast majority of primaries are good or better and Key Stage 2 results match the national average.

Will Tory MPs stand up for Knowsley and LAs like Knowsley?  Will they highlight the unfairness of such mass enforced conversion wherever it's likely to occur now that Morgan has appeased them?  As I said above, they would be hypocrites if they did not.



David Barry's picture
Sun, 08/05/2016 - 18:42

And this, today, in the Sunday Times:

Academy threat to failing schools
Sian Griffiths, Education Editor

May 8 2016, 1:01am, The Sunday Times

"As many as 1,000 primary schools are expected to be turned into academies after failing to ensure that sufficient 11-year-olds pass the new tougher national tests in maths and English."

(The rest is behind the Sunday Times paywall.)


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/05/2016 - 09:50

Laura McInerney, editor of Schools Week, described Morgan's apparent change of mind as a 'Z turn' - a step forward and a step backwards - on Radio 5 Live, Saturday Morning at 6.07.  Listen here.


Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.