The PM’s said it; the education secretary’s said it; schools minister Nick Gibb’s said it; the DfE’s robotic spokesperson's said it: ‘…there are now more than 1.4 million more pupils in schools rated good or outstanding than in 2010.’
The rise in the number of pupils in good or better schools in the last six years, according to the above, is because of the academies and free schools policy which, Theresa May says, were ‘overseen by pioneers such as Andrew Adonis and Michael Gove [and] has been a huge success and begun to build an education system fit for the future.’
But correlation isn’t causation. There is no evidence that the massive changes to the English education system set in place by Gove have caused the rise in the number of pupils in good or better schools.
First, there has been a rise in the number of pupils attending schools although this only a minor cause.
Second, and more importantly, Ofsted has concentrated more on inspecting schools which were inadequate or previously judged satisfactory/requires improvement.
There is a third factor which blows a hole in the argument that academization and a free schools have caused an increase in good or better schools: it is in the primary sector where academies are in the minority that the proportion of good or better schools has risen. It is not in the heavily-academized sector where improvement in Ofsted grades has stalled.
Correlation isn’t causation, of course. The stagnating improvement of the secondary sector may be nothing to do with the large number which converted to academy status. But if May’s comment is true – that academization and free schools policy has resulted in more pupils in good or better schools – then it should be expected that inspections in a sector which embraced academization should have improved more than they have.
Deception about academies has been going on since they were first started. And it still continues despite evidence which shows academies as a group are no better than non-academies, the National Audit Office saying informal methods such as local support are more effective at bring about improvement than formal (and more expensive) methods such as academy conversion, and academy heads in academy chains finding the much-promised autonomy isn’t forthcoming. They are allowed only as much freedom as the chain’s trustees will give them.
Perhaps, then, it’s time to greet every repetition of the ‘1.4m more pupils in good or better schools since 2010’ mantra with a snort of derision.
NOTE: Perhaps opposition MPs could also start groaning when a schools minister ‘inadvertently’ mentions the discredited PISA data for the year 2000 in the Commons. And Government MPs could perhaps politely tell the minister that such data has been found to be faulty and shouldn’t be used. Its repetition shows the Government in a bad light.