At the end of January the Department for Education published a massive amount of information, 208 items of data on GCSE results for every school in England. This makes it possible for the first time to carry out a full analysis of how academies and non-academies compare. And, despite all the claims of government supporters, there is no evidence of better GCSE performance in academies.
The first thing to watch out for is the practice of policy-making by anecdote. Academy supporters have a tendency to focus on schools like Mossbourne and Burlington Dane, or the ARK chain. These are the best performing academies but the fact that these have done well does not mean academies as a whole have done well (though it would be good to study and learn from these schools, as from high-performing non-academies).
The government tends to quote growth figures for academies, which generally look impressive. However the analysis below shows two faults in this. First, schools in disadvantaged areas have generally done well. When academies are compared to similar schools, there is no clear pattern of extra growth. Further when GCSE equivalents (like Btecs) are removed the academy growth is generally less than in non-academies.
These are the key Local Schools Network posts analysing the data released by the DfE on the 2011 GCSE results, and comparing the performance of academies and non-academies:
The main Dfe claim about growth from 2010 to 2011 in the GCSE results of academies, that it was twice that of non-academies, does not stack up when they are compared to similar schools.
The evidence shows Sir Michael is right on two counts: most outstanding schools are not academies and many schools in disadvantaged areas are doing amazing work.
The DfE criticism of schools where few students take academic subjects is, above all, a condemnation of academies
The last three years has seen a transformation in the performance of schools in the most disadvantaged areas, with % achieving 5 GCSEs including English and Maths rising from 35% to 50%.
The DfE argues that a fairer comparison would be with academies that are at least 5 years old. The evidence shows that these also perform no better than comparable non-academies.
The record of the academy chains is poor and gives no basis for expansion.
The answer is No. Even with this group, they fare better as LA schools.
Nationally only 6.5% of students of 'low prior achievement' get 5 A-Cs including English and Maths. Inner London schools do over twice as well, with Hackney achieving 22% and Tower Hamlets 23%.
When compared to comparable schools (in terms of levels of disadvantage), the data show academies under-perform on a range of criteria.
The above analysis was used as the basis of an article in the Observer on 26th February. Crucially it states " DfE spokesman did not deny the accuracy of the statistics"
Sources outside Local Schools Network
Liberal Conspiracy: Why more academies will make education worse
Anti-Academies Alliance: GCSEs, academies and disadvantage: a higher standard of government misinformation
Data Notes: The Academies figure, throughout these posts, refers to the category of sponsor-led academies, of which there are 249. It does not include the ‘converter academies’, of which there were just 25 at this point. Non-academies include those classified as community, foundation, CTCs or voluntary aided schools, 2,681 in total. Special schools are not included.)
Data sources: The DfE data release can be obtained here:
Some people have found it difficult to download this file. If you have difficulty, feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a copy of the file. The above analysis was generally done in Excel with Pivot tables.