DfE says academies are at "cutting edge" but praised “freedoms” available to non-academies. And number of schools applying to convert dropped in 2012/13.

Janet Downs's picture
“Academies are at the cutting edge of the education system, using their freedoms to innovate and improve standards.”

Department for Education Academies Report 2012/13 (published June 2014)

But a school doesn’t have to be an academy to be “at the cutting age”. It’s been repeated often enough: non-academies can do most things academies can do and it’s not lack of “freedom” which stops innovation but pressure from league tables.

The Academies Report exalts the superiority of academies. The DfE uses selected case studies to make its point. It even praises three local authorities where all secondary schools converted by 31 July 2013. One was Rutland - but there are only three secondary schools in Rutland. And Rutland County Council expressed fears about the impact of academy conversion in 2012:

“As the number of Rutland schools becoming Academies increases, so does the impact on the provision of central services by the Local Authority.”

Another, featured at length, was Darlington. The DfE praises Darlington’s GCSE results: 64.8% reached the benchmark* - this is above the national average of 60.6%. But strip out equivalent exams** and the figure falls to 53.4% slightly below the national average of 53.6%.

Many of the case studies praising GCSE performance feature academies or academy chains which use equivalent exams heavily. This is not necessarily to criticise these academies – Ofsted found many to be good or better. But if the DfE praises academies for their outcomes then we should be made aware if equivalent exams played a large part. Henry Stewart, using data supplied by the DfE, has found results for sponsored academies would have fallen overall by 7.4% if the new way of calculating the value of equivalent exams had been applied in 2013.

Other case studies praised academies which used particular “freedoms”. But a school needn’t be an academy to change its curriculum: there is nothing to stop non-academies from increasing literacy time or introducing silent reading. Curriculum change at secondary level is not fuelled solely by conversion: non-academies as well as academies are likely to have changed their curriculum because of EBacc and the new way of calculating the equivalent value of vocational exams. It’s disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

A school doesn’t have to be an academy to operate breakfast clubs, extended days or enrichment classes. But the report implies these features will only be found in academies.

A school doesn’t have to be an academy to introduce performance-related pay – it’s now a requirement for all state schools.

If academy conversion were so wonderful, it should be expected that the number of schools applying annually to become academies would increase year by year. But the number of schools voluntarily applying to convert fell from 1,058 in 2011/12 to 731 in 2012/13. The number of schools becoming sponsored, however, rose from just 93 in 2011/12 to 366 in 2012/13, the year when enforced conversion took off.

It appears, then, the number of “rewarded succeeders” has declined while “punished failures” and “near-boiled frogs” have risen.


Academy freedoms don’t amount to much. They come with increased burdens and, in the case of some sponsored academies and academies in chains, decreased autonomy.


No amount of DfE-generated puff will change these facts.

*5 GCSEs (or equivalent) grade C or above including Maths and English
**Non-GCSE exams given a GCSE “equivalent” of, say, two or four GCSEs.
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Brian's picture
Tue, 15/07/2014 - 08:50

Will we see a significant change of direction now Gove has gone? Somebody who doesn't believe in their own omnipotence would be good.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 15/07/2014 - 09:10

Nicky Morgan, MP for Loughborough, is new education secretary. Gove is now Chief Whip. Truss is now environment secretary.

FJM's picture
Tue, 15/07/2014 - 10:09

Labour politicians will have to be careful before attacking Nicky Morgan for her private education (Surbiton High), given Hunt's own pedigre.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 15/07/2014 - 11:38

Just had a look at Morgan's voting record. She voted very strongly for "greater autonomy" for schools and for academies (she'll probably agree with every word in the DfE's Academies Report). She also voted for ending financial support for some 16-19 year-olds in FE and for raising undergrad tuition cap of £9000.

Full voting record here:


Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 15/07/2014 - 15:06

It seems to me that Gove departs because Cameron believes "mission accomplished" .

Furthermore .it says something about the downgrading of Education in the tories priorities if they don't consider Morgans' new duties to be weighty enough to necissitate her relinquishing her portfolio as Women and Equalities minister!

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 15/07/2014 - 15:14

Nick Gibb is back as Minister of State.

That surely suggests continuity rather than change.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 15/07/2014 - 15:57

True Barry...presumably Mr Gibb, as an accountant, is back to clear up the financial deceptions that have become evident over the last two years as the private sector entitlement ethos clashed with the probity standards of the public sector . All predicted by Local Schools Network from the outset (Like we didn't see that one coming after the same arrogant entitlement epitomised by the MP expenses scandal).

So does Gove go because the policies are accomplished but still need to straighten the books????

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 15/07/2014 - 20:06

I did not know he was an accountant in an earlier life, Rosie. What Gibb's return signals to me is that though Michael Gove may be OUT, for better or for worse, blazers, rigour, zero tolerance and the Hirsch knowledge sequence are still IN.

My guess is full steam ahead on the new GCSEs. Which reminds me that with Ofqual warning that linearity/ no multiple entries likely to affect outcomes, it might have been a good time to move on.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 09:36

Barry - I thought you were joking about Nick Gibb's return. But it turns out it's true! Apparently he is "working with Nicky Morgan to ensure no let up in education reforms."

So, we can expect Gibbs' ill-informed and superficial views to be aired in public once again.

agov's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 11:46

"the number of schools voluntarily applying to convert fell from 1,058 in 2011/12 to 731 in 2012/13. The number of schools becoming sponsored, however, rose from just 93 in 2011/12 to 366 in 2012/13, the year when enforced conversion took off "

What I hear is that there is currently 'an avalanche' of schools rushing to convert to academy status (- we'll see). Perhaps not surprising as Frank Green, the schools commissioner, has been going around the country boasting (- entirely truthfully I expect) that senior Labour people tell him they agree with Gove's policy so there will be no change.

Possibly these schools calculate that it is better to go before the election rather than wait for even worse things to be done to them by the liblabcons after the election.

Can't see any reason why Nicky would change anything other than to be kinder, gentler, softer in the way she decrees things.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 16:13

agov - DfE stats show 376 sponsored academies opened in 2013/14 (this includes one that was closed and reopened with a different name). This is slightly lower than in 2012/13. There are also 26 "in development" for 2013/14, 205 for 2014/15 and 45 for 2015/16 - these have Ministerial Approval in Principle and may change.

The data for converter academies isn't so clear. it involves totting up the numbers from columns so I can't guarantee its accuracy. It appears there have been 1,350 applications to convert of which about 370 are awaiting approval.

What we don't know is how many of the 980 which have been approved will actually open in the academic year 2013/14 which will end on 31 August. If all the approved ones open then that would be about 250 more than in 2012/13 but still slightly less than the number in 2011/12. And this number includes PRUs, middle schools and post-16 provision as well as mainstream primary and secondary.

Whether 250 more converters than in 2012/13 could be described as an "avalanche" is debatable.

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