DfE GCSE data: Non academies improve significently faster than sponsored academies

Henry Stewart's picture

The DfE's press release on today's GCSE data was originally titled "academies lead the way as school performance tables are published", as the URL indicates. In fact the data clearly shows that sponsored academies are improving at a consistently slower rate than similar schools in the local authority maintained sector: 

The data is clear. When grouped with similar schools, sponsored academy results improved less between 2014 and 2015 than non academies.

  • For those previously below 35%, sponsored academy results improved on average by 5.8%, but maintained LA schools by 7.2%
  • For those between 35% and 39%, sponsored academies impro9ved by just 1.6%. Maintained schools improved by almost 3 time as much, 4.6%

(Full table below: Schools are grouped by quintiles, so roughly same number of sponsored academies in each group. Total: 438 sponsored academies, 1,222 LA maintained school that had GCSE results in both 2014 and 2015)

This is the latest set of data which shows that sponsored academies not only do not accelerate improvement in schools, but actually lag behind. The DfE data on primary schools revealed that sponsored academies improved at a slower rate than non academies, whether for level 4, level 4b or level 5 and for both 2013 to 2015 and 2014 to 2015. 

DfE Claims

In the past government ministers have always claimed better performance for sponsored academies because their average improvement is greater than that for all other schools. This has always been a misleading comparison, as sponsored academies start from a lower base (and, as the chart above shows, schools starting from a lower base increase their results faster). However this year they have been unable to maintain that claim, as sponsored academies, despite their lower starting point, increased at the same rate as all schools.

It is now four years since the DfE has made any attempt to claim that sponsored academies improve at a faster rate than similar non academies. This is not surprising as, since many GCSE equivalents were removed from the GCSE benchmark, the data has shown that sponsored academies improve their results at a slower rate.

This year the DfE press release was reduced to making this claim: "Results in sponsored academies open for 2 years have improved by 2.3 percentage points since 2014." There is no attempt to compare this to non academies and the 2.3% figure is not in any case particularly impressive. The chart above shows that non academies in the two lower quintiles (from which new sponsored academies are likely to have started) improved on average by 7.2% and 4.5% respectively.

The reason that the DfE chose such a specific subset (sponsored academies open for 2 years) may be because many of the results show a poor picture for sponsored academies. For instance, sponsored academies open for five or more years saw their results, on average, fall between 2013 and 2015: from 52.5% in 2013 to 47.6% in 2014 and 47.1% in 2015. (From this DfE publication.)

What is the problem with sponsored academies?

Sponsored secondary academies improve at a slower rate than similar non academies. Sponsored primary academies improve at a slower rate than similar non academies. Schools that are rated by Ofsted as "inadequate" are more likely to remain "inadequate" if they become sponsored academies.  

I have an upcoming post planned suggesting that one of the key priorities in education is to address the question of why sponsored academies perform so badly, and what they could learn from the success of schools in the local authority maintained sector. This latest data increases the urgency of that question. 

Data Notes

The school-by-school data on GCSE results is available here.  (KS4 results, CSV)

Data: Change in GCSE benchmark, 2014 to 15

2014 GCSE rangeSponsored AcademiesNon academies
0 - 34%5.8%7.2%
25% - 39%1.6%4.5%
40% - 46%0.5%1.8%
47% - 55%-3.1%0.2%
56% +-2.9%-1.7%












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Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/01/2016 - 09:03

It appears the DfE has changed another press release.  The one linked to above has a different title and more info about disadvantaged children than the one I read yesterday.  Yet there's no indication the release has been changed.  It's obvious it has been altered, though, because the URL is the same as yesterday's and contains the original misleading heading.

The DfE  has form on altering press releases.  It toned down the release accusing those opposing academization as mobs when it was eventually made public.  This is a disturbing move.  How can the public be sure that what the DfE tells the press and which is subsequently reported is the same as the one that appears on the GovUK website?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/01/2016 - 09:37

As well as spewing out the usual stuff about sponsored academies, the first paragraph under 'GCSE' praises converter academies claiming they outperform the national average.  Now there's a surprise - offer conversion to schools which already performed well and then say this group outperforms the rest.  

But not all converters remained Good or better.  Some were downgraded after conversion - some of these have been forced to join a multi-academy trust.  And not all of the latter are doing as well as the Government claims - E-Act, AET, Grace Foundation, Prospects (now wound up), The Learning Schools Trust (the charitable arm of Swedish for-profit education provider Kunskapsskolan) are among several MATs which have been 'paused' from taking on more academies because of concerns about low performance.  Ofsted has sent critical letters to E-Act, TKAT, Oasis, Collaborative Learning Trust, SPTA, AET, and CfBT following focused inspections.  Dove Family Trust, which only took over Dundry CoE Primary in September, is in trouble.  Presumably Dove was considered a 'strong sponsor' by the DfE before it was allowed to sponsor Dundry. 

Gibbs says strong sponsors will spread their 'excellence and expertise' as the Government expands the academy's programme in order to extend opportunities to all.  But it didn't work in the cases listed above.




Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/01/2016 - 09:39

What part of 'politicians should stop exaggerating academy performance' does Gibb and the DfE not comprehend?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/01/2016 - 10:41

The Independent  is reporting that 'A total of 188 underperforming schools were academies, while 50 are council-run, 45 are foundation schools, 14 are voluntary-aided and the others include university technical colleges, studio schools and further education colleges for to 14- to 16-year-olds.'

Rather blows a whole in the argument that academies raise performance.

That said, there are more ways to judge a school's effectiveness than exam results.  Context should be taken into consideration.  Nevertheless, while Morgan and Gibb persist in saying academy conversion is essential for raising results, it's necessary to say it isn't when judged against their criteria.

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