The Government is ideologically committed to turning all schools into academies, despite the fact that there is no credible evidence that this will improve pupil attainment in national tests and exams or lead to school improvement.1
Even Schools Minister Nick Gibb has conceded that: “This government does not believe that all academies and free schools are necessarily better than maintained schools.”2
In January 2015, following an 18-month Inquiry into academies and free schools, the House of Commons Education Committee concluded that: “Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school”. In relation to primary schools, the Committee said: “We have sought but not found convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools.”3
The Government often claims that exam results show that sponsored academies are improving at a faster rate than non-academies. However, sponsored academies are generally those schools whose exam results were previously lower than average, so there is far greater scope for improvement. The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) has criticised the DfE for implying there is a “causal link” link between academy status and rates of improvement in Key Stage 2 SATs tests.4
Fuller analysis of test and examination data consistently shows that when the rate of improvement in schools with similar starting points are compared, sponsored academies do no better, and sometimes do worse.
Henry Stewart, founder of the Local Schools Network, analysed the 2015 school-by-school KS2 SATs results. He showed that sponsored primary academies’ results increased at a slower rate than similar non-academies.5
Similar analysis of the 2015 GCSE data showed that sponsored secondary academies are improving at a consistently slower rate than similar local authority maintained schools. For those schools in which the proportion of pupils achieving the benchmark (5 or more A*-Cs including English and Maths) in 2014 was below 35 per cent, sponsored academy results improved on average by 5.8 per cent, but maintained LA schools improved by 7.2 per cent. For those between 35 per cent and 39 per cent, sponsored academies improved by just 1.6 per cent while LA maintained schools improved by almost three times as much, 4.6 per cent.6
The picture was the same with 2014 GCSE results. An analysis of this data by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found that “the amount of attainment progress made by pupils in sponsored and converter academies is not greater than in maintained schools with similar characteristics”.7
Ministers often justify the academies programme by saying that it is improving results for disadvantaged pupils. Again, there is no evidence to back this up.
In January 2015 the Education Committee found that “It is too early to judge whether academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children”.8
The Sutton Trust has produced two reports looking at the impact of academy chains on low income students in secondary sponsored academies: Chain Effects (an analysis of 2013 GCSE results published in 2014) and Chain Effects 2015 (an analysis of 2014 results). Both reports found “very significant” variation in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, both between and within chains. In 2013 only 16 out of 31 chains exceeded the improvement for disadvantaged pupils in 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and maths for all mainstream schools. The report also concluded that “far from providing a solution to disadvantage, a few chains may be exacerbating it”.9
The 2015 report indicated a worsening situation concluding that the “contrast between the best and worst chains has increased in 2014”.10
The Government frequently refers to academies’ Ofsted results as evidence of their better performance. However, a Schools Week analysis of Ofsted data for April 2015 revealed that there were proportionally more ‘inadequate’ academies than maintained schools. There were around 1,000 maintained schools with this rating (less than 2 per cent) compared with 133 academies (4.4 per cent). The 133 inadequate academies included 28 that were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ at the time of conversion.11
In July 2015, DfE data was released to Henry Stewart under a Freedom of Information request. Analysis showed that a school rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted was far more likely to remain ‘inadequate’ at its next inspection if it became a sponsored academy than if it had remained a maintained school. He concluded that: “For secondary schools rated “inadequate”, sponsored academies are almost four times as likely to remain “inadequate” at their next inspection (27% v 7%). For primary schools rated “Inadequate”, sponsored academies are over twelve times as likely to remain “inadequate” (8% v 0.6%)”.12
A similar picture was revealed in data released by Ofsted to Lord Hunt of Kings Heath in December 2015. This showed that among “inadequate” schools that became sponsored academies, 12 per cent remained inadequate (one in eight) compared to just two per cent (one in 50) of those that remained in the local authority maintained sector.13
The NUT believes the Government should focus on cost-effective and proven school improvement initiatives, such as local partnerships and federations or larger scale interventions such as the City Challenge programme.
In October 2014, the National Audit Office (NAO) report, ‘Academies and maintained schools: Oversight and intervention’, found informal interventions such as local support were more effective than academy conversion.14
In 2013, Professor Merryn Hutchings, lead author of the DfE’s evaluation of the City Challenge programme, stated: “The evidence that the London Challenge was a successful approach to school improvement is overwhelming. It was also comparatively cheap; over three years the funding for City Challenge was £160 million, considerably cheaper than the £8.5 billion reportedly spent on the academies’ programme over two years”.15
1The Education and Adoption Bill is currently being considered by Parliament. If passed unamended it could lead to thousands more schools being forced into becoming academies against their will. Read more on the Bill here: http://www.teachers.org.uk/campaigns/edbill
2 Sophie Scott (5 September 2015), “Nick Gibb tells ResearchED academies are not ‘necessarily better’ than maintained schools”, Schools Week.
3 Education Committee (January 2015), Academies and free schools. Fourth Report of Session2014–15. pp. 4 & 54.
4 Warwick Mansell (14 July 2015), “Department for Education rapped over use of Sats data”, Guardian.
5 Henry Stewart (14 December 2015), “DfE 2015 data: Maintained primary schools improve faster than sponsored academies”, Local Schools Network.
6 Henry Stewart (21 January 2016), “DfE GCSE data: Non academies improve significantly faster than sponsored academies”, Local Schools Network.
7Jack Worth (July 2015), Analysis of academy school performance in GCSEs 2014, p. 28.
8Academies and free schools. p. 23
9 Merryn Hutchings, Becky Francis and Robert De Vries (July 2014), Chain Effects. p. 4.
10Merryn Hutchings, Becky Francis and Philip Kirby (July 2015) Chain Effects 2015. p. 4.
11John Dickens (4 June 2014), “The questions Nicky Morgan refused to answer”, Schools Week.
12 Henry Stewart (31 July 2015),”DfE Data: Sponsored academies lead to slower school improvement”, Local Schools Network
13 NUT (30 December 2015), Ofsted reveals that a school is six times as likely to remain inadequate if it becomes a sponsored academy.
14National Audit Office (30 October 2014), Academies and maintained schools: Oversight and intervention.
15 Merryn Hutchings (2013), “Why is attainment higher in London than elsewhere?”: https://www.teachers.org.uk/node/17429