How well do Academies do?

There has been quite a flurry of activity recently about how the performance of academies compared with that of other schools in 2011. The DfE has based its claims on the fact that results (5 A* to C  including English and maths) rose by 5.7% whereas the increase for all schools was 3.1%. So, it claims, academies improved twice as fast as other schools.

Since then these claims have been comprehensively demolished first by Henry Stewart on the Local Schools Network blog and then by a report from the House of Commons Library. These analyses can be found at http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/02/2011-gcses-what-the-data-tells-us-about-academies-and-non-academies/

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/02/did-academy-results-grow-more-in-2011-not-when-compared-to-similar-schools/

http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN04719

The basic point is that you have to compare like with like. Comparing academies which have low results in the past with schools that scored 70% or 80% is plainly silly. The reality is that when you compare academies with similar schools – whether by previous attainment or by free meals – you can find no advantage for academies. In fact if you look at GCSE only (ie stripping out the vocational qualifications that Mr Gove thinks so little of), you mostly find academies did worse.

These findings were reported in the Observer a couple of weeks ago. The DfE produced an embarrassingly bad attempt to refute the findings – for those with a taste for Govian obfuscation you can find this at:

 http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/inthenews/a00204226/response-to-the-observer-article.

 Henry Stewart has taken this press release apart at:

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/03/dfe-fails-to-refute-lsn-analysis-no-evidence-of-academy-performance/

One feature of particular interest might be the DfE claims for the performance of academy chains. Henry points out that these are the schools most heavily dependent on vocational qualifications.

“The Harris % for 5 ACEM falls by 24% after taking out vocational equivalents and the Ark figure falls by 21%. (For comparison, the figure for state schools as a whole falls by just 6%.)”

It seems unlikely that DfE policy will be shifted by actual evidence. We can no doubt look forward to many more ministerial statements asserting that black is white. The risk is, as Mark Twain memorably said “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Anyone with a concern for evidence based policy needs to make sure that truth catches up.

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2 Comments on “How well do Academies do?”

  1. johnebolt says:

    “The academy programme has been in existence for over 10 years and on the basis of this analysis one can conclude that it is not working. In every FSM/LEA bracket analysed fewer children left the median sponsored academy with 5 GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths than other types of schools with different modes of organisation. In four of the seven bands sponsored academies provided significantly worse outcomes than all other school types and there is no evidence here that academies perform significantly better than other schools with large cohorts of FSM/LAC children.”

    This is the conclusion reacher after further very rigorous statistical analysis by Leonard James on his blog Educational Opinion. For detail see
    http://educationalopinion.blogspot.com/2012/03/academy-evidence-review-part-1.html

  2. trevor fisher says:

    the key point is not so much the evidence as cracking media silence on the issue. The evidence is now becoming clear, but it is having no effect. The idea of a public statement drawing together all the threads and published on the 2nd anniversary of Gove’s accession is the only short term way to raise the profile.

    It is less than two months to the anniversary, so getting a text together and raising the wind will be difficult. But the Gove revolution thrives on the lack of publicity. Having the evidence is only the first step. If it stays in the small circles of the convinced it cannot have any effect.

    trevor fisher