In a break from its often partisan use of data, the DfE has published a remarkably thoughtful and detailed analysis
of the performance of local authorities and academy chains. And it reveals, in terms of value added, a picture of serious underperformance by the chains.Of the 20 academy chains (being those multi-academy trusts with at least 5 schools), only 3 have a value added that is above the national average.
When academy supporters talk about "high performing academy chains" they always refer to ARK and Harris. These are indeed strongly performing in these tables (along with the Diocese of Westminster). But they are the exception. Fully 85% of academy chains are under-performing.
Comparing local authority schools and academy chain schools
The declared aim
of Michael Gove was "to liberate comprehensives from the dead hand of town hall control". Instead they were to become part of academy chains. Whether or not they had previous experience of co-ordinating schools, and without any accountability to the local communities, chains would transform schools. The DfE data makes clear that this hasn't happened. If the lists of chains and local authorities are combined then the top 10 for value added (GCSE only) are:
|Name||Type||VA GCSE only|
Now ARK and Harris do get into the top ten but only just. London local authorities are again the best performing schools. Indeed in the top 50 of the combined list, only 3 are academy chains. Meanwhile in the 50 with the lowest value added, 15 are academy chains.
The DfE data makes clear that Gove's ideology was misguided. The result is that, across the country, children have been let down. Their results, if they were in the majority of the chains, were worse than they would have been if still in a local authority school.
The DfE paper is full of caveats. It points out that chains may have recently taken over underperforming schools. However my analysis last year
compared chains and local authorities, only including schools that had been with a chain for at least 5 years. I found that, of the 7 largest chains, 5 had an average GCSE score (without equivalents) of 35% or less. Of 152 local authorities, only 2 had an average of 35% or less. (Also, the DfE calculation adjusts for the length of time a school has been in a chain.)
The figures for LAs only include schools in their area that are not academies. The paper also notes that LA figures may be lower than otherwise because so many of their Good and Outstanding schools have become academies. Given this fact it is truly remarkable that the local authority value added figure is so strong.
Who will expose the scandal of academy chains?
Academy chains are principally the creation of the current government. The Coalition initially protected them from Ofsted inspection and did not require them to reveal how the funding they receive is spent at a school level. Even now, Ofsted can inspect them
but cannot deliver a judgement on the chain as a whole.
Tristram Hunt has started to recognise this. Last week
, after stating that "chains can be an incredibly important architecture in a school innovation system" he did say "I see too many schools struggling with second-rate academy chains, and I want to set them free". He added that "I see far more control, micro-managing and revenue-skimming than in many a local authority."
Tristram's suggestion that schools should be allowed to escape from poorly performing chains is a step in the right direction. However he surely needs to be tougher in exposing the scandal of the academy chains. They are a massive experiment with our children's future, based on ideology rather than evidence, and it is now clear that the experiment has failed. In the coming election campaign this is an open goal and the Coalition government should be held to account for it.
Date note: The value added figure is based around 1000. Every grade above the average adds 6 pts. So in a local authority with a score of 1006 each pupil, on average, gets one grade (in one subject) above the average. In Hackney, with a score of 1049.7, each pupil, on average, gets over eight extra grades above the average. Given that the value added score is for their Best 8 subjects, that is equivalent to one grade higher in each of their GCSEs.
Note: Chris Cook has also produced a very useful analysis
of this DfE data for the BBC, also including the DfE data on improvement in the value added score. He points out that this DfE analysis does cast doubt on government policy.
Note: The phrase "high performing academy chains", used by academy supporters, is a clever one. It implies all academy chains are "high performing". I have heard people talk about how "high performing academy chains" have some of the strongest results in the country. When challenged with the data on chains overall, these proponents explain that they were talking about "high performing" chains like ARK and Harris. By definition if you only include "high performing" providers, then their results will always be above average.