Deception about academies has been going on since they first opened

Janet Downs's picture

The first three academies, Business Academy, Greig City, and Unity City were opened in 2002. In 2005, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) told potential sponsors:

“In 2003, their first year, the average 5+ A*-C results in the three open Academies was 24%, compared to an average of 16% in their predecessor schools in the previous year [2001].”

But one of these academies, Unity City, had a fall in results from 17% to 16%. And the average in the predecessor schools was 21% not 16%. Unity City failed Ofsted twice: in 2005 and 2006. The Business Academy was rated unsatisfactory overall by Ofsted in 2005 and issued with a Notice to Improve. When it was next inspected in 2007, it was rated satisfactory.

By 2005, then, only one of the first academies, Greig City, had been found by Ofsted to be improving rapidly and given a “good” rating. But this didn’t stop the DfES from talking up academy success.

As early as 2005 politicians were publishing misleading and inaccurate information about academies. However, the Commons Education Committee wasn’t convinced. They accused the then Government of promoting schemes which had not been properly evaluated. The committee recommended that the estimated £5bn funding for academies should be withheld until they were shown to be cost-effective. In the same year, the first assessment of academies by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) presented a mixed picture of their success. The Education Network criticised the then Government for its “disingenuous interpretation of the [PwC] data” and accused Ministers of deceiving the public.

In 2007 the Public Accounts Committee recognised that “Academic results have improved faster in academies than in other schools” but said it was too early to say whether this is because of extra cash, enthusiastic new teachers, or because of the academy freedoms. The committee concluded that non-academy schools would be as likely to do as well if they were given the same funding.

The 2008 PwC report concluded that there was “insufficient evidence to make a definitive judgement about the Academies as a model for school improvement.” In 2009, a University of Birmingham report which looked at academies established between 2002 and 2007 found that “there is no clear evidence that Academies produce better results than local authority schools with equivalent intakes.”

In 2010, the new Government extended the academies programme to all good and outstanding schools. In the same year the National Audit Office (NAO) found that many academies had performed “impressively” but noted that Ofsted had judged some academies to be inadequate. It warned that the academies’ performance which was in any case not uniform couldn’t be used to predict how academy conversion would work if it were rolled out more widely. This warning was repeated by the London School of Economics - LSE research into the success of sponsored academies couldn’t be applied to converter academies or primary schools. Channel 4 FactCheck recognised that the LSE research was solid but queried if the GCSE performance of academies had been inflated by equivalent qualifications.

Analysis of the 2011 GCSE results posted on this site and in the Observer shows that sponsored academies do not as a group perform as well as other types of school. There are some impressive sponsored academies but their success cannot be applied to academies as a whole. The results of converter academies can’t be used to demonstrate that academies work because the 2011 cohort would have spent most of their school life in non-academy schools and most converter academies were good or outstanding schools with already high results. And conversion is no guarantee that standards will be maintained – Ofsted has already found one converter academy to be inadequate.

The propaganda from both the last and present Governments is becoming increasingly impossible to defend. Academy conversion is being promoted as a silver bullet – it isn’t.


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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 08/03/2012 - 10:24

More misinformation about academies from the Mayor of London. The undated article (written before the opening of two academies in September 2010) cherry picks favourable comments from the reports of the National Audit Office and PriceWaterhouseCoopers without mentioning that both of these organisations found there was insufficient evidence to support academy conversion as a model for school improvement. Look in FAQs for main points of the NAO and PwC reports and links to the documents.

David Birch's picture
Sat, 10/03/2012 - 06:54

This is a persuasive and helpful overview. The fact that the term 'academies' covers such a variety of schools, including now those with high success rates, makes it very difficult to evaluate their success as an educational entity. This makes this kind of analysis all the more valuable.

I'm looking forward to the time when the debate moves away from academies vs LA schools to a serious dialogue about how we can make all schools better. It seems to me that developing purposeful and committed leadership which sets the highest value on teaching and learning (in whatever the setting) are the real keys to success. Imposing academy status on a school is not a panacea: school leaders and governors need much more nuanced levels of support in finding their own solutions in their local context.

It may be that academy chains could provide that, but so could improvement services brokered by slimmed down LAs.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 10/03/2012 - 09:33

PriceWaterhouseCoopers report in 2008 concluded that when schools improved they used similar methods. It didn't matter whether they were academies or non-academies. However, this important finding has been ignored and the Coalition continues to push academy conversion as the only solution to raise standards.

In its marketing campaign to promote academies, the DfE cites various attributes which it alleges can only be found in academies. This is nonsense, since many non-academies exhibit these same characteristics. Mr Gove made the same point at the Conservative conference but his claims were not supported by a Freedom of Information Request for the evidence.

Leonard James's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 14:35

I've been playing with some of the raw data that Henry Stewart used in earlier blog posts and have come up with similar results. I don't always agree with LSN but that was a nice spot.

Rodger Williams's picture
Sun, 11/03/2012 - 18:20

Great research. How easy would it be to compare the OFSTED reports given to the groups of school, academies, etc., analysed?

Rodger Williams's picture
Sat, 10/03/2012 - 16:57

Croydon council has rejected Oasis academy's bid to run a primary school, due to their poor record of running a primary school in Croydon:

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 10/03/2012 - 17:17

Thanks, Rodger. I note that a Labour Councillor has described the situation as a farce: "I have always maintained that the most sensible way forward is for the council to have done it themselves but a community school is not an option. This proves how crazy the system is. It's a mess."

Under the Education Act, no council can open a new community school which it would then maintain. This appears to be already causing a problem in Croydon where the Council now has to find another sponsor, one which didn't bid to run the new school in the first place, to run the new school.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 12/03/2012 - 11:02

Derek Gillard, ex head teacher, produced an excoriating analysis of the first five years of the academy programme in 2007. His article highlights more deception and misrepresentation as well as a tendency to ignore negative criticism and any evidence that contradicted the then Government's propaganda about academies.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 11/11/2012 - 13:19

When Labour came to power it said it would concentrate on “Standards not structures” and that it would base policy on hard evidence. But by 2001 Labour’s focus had shifted from standards in primary schools to the structure of secondary schools: it announced that new academies would be established in inner-cities. It was claimed that these would raise standards.

“Hard evidence” also took a knock as this TES article from 2004 made clear:

“The latest example of rushed reform was revealed at a hearing of the education select committee two months ago when Charles Clarke, Education Secretary, confirmed to MPs the Government's commitment to evidence-based policy making. He then spent an uncomfortable few minutes trying to justify why, when by his own admission there was "very little evidence" that academies work, the Government had just announced a massive expansion of the programme.”

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 28/04/2013 - 09:57

It seems that spin about academies was happening in 2005 with some papers running with the propaganda churned out by the then Labour government.

"Deception, deception, deception." Wasn't that what Blair said re education? No wonder Gove is such a fan.

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