What the government says about sponsored academy performance.

from Martin Johnson

AcademiesNotTheAnswerThere are now two key pieces of evidence from the government on the exam performance of pupils in secondary academies.

1. Parliamentary Answer

Nick Gibb recently provided a written answer to a question from Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon: ‘… what evidence her Department holds to support the proposition that academies are better performers than local authority schools…’ See http://www.riseinformationcentre.org.uk/information-centre/standards-and-assessment and go to June 25th 2015.

It must be assumed that the reply contains all the evidence held by the DfE which shows better performance by academies. This amounts to one item relating to secondary schools. It is as follows.

Percentage of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and Maths:

Between 2010 and 2014 results for sponsored academies that had been open for at least four years rose from 36.8% to 43.2%, an increase of 6.4%. results for all local authority schools rose from 54.4% to 55.7%, an increase of 1.3%.

Comment: This answer provides only limited information about academies opened under the Labour government programme, comparing them with the minority of secondary schools which had not become academies by 2014. There is no allowance for intake factors such as the KS2 performance of pupils taking GCSE in each year, and no measurement of the progress from KS2 to KS4, in other words the effectiveness of the schools.

Research by the authoritative National Foundation for Educational Research (Worth, J. 2014. Analysis of Academy School Performance in GCSEs 2013. Slough: NFER), corrects for such shortcomings in an analysis of 2013 results. It concludes that sponsored academies improved more than average in terms of pupil progress when GCSE equivalents are included, but not when GCSE results alone are considered. This avenue to success was partially closed in 2014 by the revaluation of non-GCSE qualifications.

2) Measuring the performance of schools within academy chains and local authorities:

DfE SFR 09/2015 March 2015

Government SFRs (Statistical First Releases) are highly authoritative research, in this case using very sophisticated methodology. Using a pupil progress model, it compares the 2014 GCSE results, based on both ‘best eight’ and ‘best eight including equivalents’ scores, of all local authorities (100) and chains (20) which had at least five secondary schools in September 2013.

Three of the 20 chains achieved significantly above average value added in 2014, but nine, almost half, were significantly below average. In comparison, 13 of the 100 LAs achieved significantly above average, but only 10 were significantly below average. The most intriguing result is that two of the successful chains, ARK and Harris, and 12 of the 13 ‘successful’ LAs are London based; does this explain their success? The third successful chain was the Diocese of Westminster, with schools in outer London and Hertfordshire. Two chains, Outwood Grange and United Learning, were above average for GCSE including equivalents but below average for GCSE only.

Comment: SFR 09/2015 was published in March 2015 and contains a precise answer to the question, how does the performance of pupils in academies which are members of chains compare with that of pupils in schools which remain attached to local authorities? However, this finding has been little noticed. It is scarcely surprising that the Minister could not quote any of the research available, because it does not support his proposition.

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