There is no “academy effect” - Henry Stewart’s research upheld by academics

Janet Downs's picture
Labour’s academy programme has been praised by the present Government who claim that academy status raised school performance especially when academies were sponsored by chains. This alleged rise in results is used to justify academy conversion even to the extent of forcing schools to become academies if the Government judges them to be “failing”. But research into academies set up under Labour by academics from Leeds and Manchester Universities found:

1 Academies rely heavily on “equivalent” exams (ie non-GCSE exams which are given GCSE equivalence).

2 Disadvantaged pupils do no better in academies than in non-academy schools.

3 Academies are not improving faster than non-academies with similar characteristics.

4 Some of them were on an upward trend before becoming academies.

5 1 out of 7 of Labour academies falls below the “floor target”, the benchmark used by the Government to claim that a school is “failing” in terms of academic attainment. The comparative figure for all maintained secondary schools is 1 out of 34.

6 It’s a myth that most Labour academies replaced low achieving schools in disadvantaged areas. Around a third do not fit that description in terms of pupil composition, and about a half have intakes with a higher attainment level than in the predecessor school the year before closure.

7 On average, academy pupils are only half as likely to achieve the Government’s expected number of EBacc subjects (GCSE A*-C in English, Maths, two sciences, History or Geography, and a foreign language). In a quarter of academies not one pupil reached this standard.

8 Attainment data for academy chains is similar to academies in general.

9 Academies in chains make higher use of GCSE “equivalent” exams than other academies and much higher use than in other maintained secondary schools.

10 Disadvantaged pupils in academies sponsored by chains do better on the 5A*-C (including Maths and English, GCSEs only) measure than in other academies but below the national average for maintained, non-academy secondary schools.

11 Results vary considerably among academies run by chains so it is difficult to believe that such sponsorship helps increase performance.

There is no “academy effect”, the researchers found. Instead, they confirmed the findings of PriceWaterhouseCooper 2008 that raising school improvement was ‘a more complex and varied process of change’ (see faqs above).

The report concluded: “Overall, this research provides detailed evidence to reinforce findings contained in the recent National Audit Office report (2010) that there is no academy effect but considerable variability, and that disadvantaged young people generally do no better in academies than in other schools”.

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Adrian Elliott's picture
Thu, 06/12/2012 - 16:42

One of the most striking points in the report is the extreme variation in the performance of disadvantaged children across different academies.
It is this inconsistency of performance amongst local authority maintained schools which ministers (and Labour adherents of academies like Lord Adonis) have constantly cited as a key (if not the key) argument for academisation.

But if this consistency - ie levelling up - has allegedly not been delivered by the academy programme then surely the supporters of academies must respond to this evidence - and not simply keep repeating the mantra that schools converting to academies is a sure way to improve them.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 07/12/2012 - 14:38

Unfortunately, Adrian, admirers of academies like Adonis and Gove together with uncritical journalists keep repeating the same propaganda about the success of the academy programme on the Goebbels principle:

"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."

Anastasia Ignatieff's picture
Mon, 10/12/2012 - 16:13

'Those comrades who assert most flatly, with the greatest insistence and sometimes most brutally, that every difference of opinion, every grouping of opinion, however temporary, is an expression of the interests of classes opposed to the proletariat, do not want to apply this criterion to bureaucratism.'

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