Primary school pupils in multi-academy trusts (MATs) made the least progress in reading, official data issued last week reveals.
Surely this data shows MATs are inferior to other types of schools?
The answer is No. It would be misleading to jump to conclusions based on progress in just one subject.
Pupils in MATs made more progress in writing and maths than the national average. But claims of superiority based on two subjects are just as unreliable as claims of inferiority based on one.
The minister for school standards, Nick Gibb, was quick to use the end of Key Stage Two Assessment data to hype his favoured school type:
‘Every child, regardless of their background, deserves a high quality education and opportunity to fulfil their potential. Headteachers are using the freedoms afforded by academy and free school status to make this a reality, as illustrated by the progress disadvantaged pupils in multi-academy trusts are making in writing and maths.’
Leave aside the fact that heads in MATs only have as much freedom as trustees allow them, note that Gibb particularly focusses on disadvantaged* pupils.
Even then, he (or whoever wrote the press release), got it wrong. Disadvantaged pupils in MATs make more progress than the national average for disadvantaged* pupils in all three subjects: writing, maths and reading. It appears the Department for Education can’t even spin data to maximum effect.
Pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) in MATs also made more progress in the three subjects than the national average. So far, so positive for MATs.
But the same data showed that children in MATs with special needs (SEN), without special needs, low prior attainment and who were not classified as disadvantaged* made less progress in reading than the national average for these pupils. And though the gap between disadvantaged* and non-disadvantaged pupils in MATs is smaller than the national average (the point seized upon by Gibb), ‘the gap between SEN and non-SEN pupils, EAL pupils and pupils with English as a first language, and between low and high prior attainment pupils, is larger in MATs than the national average.’
Using attainment data for MATs ito make a point about their superiority or otherwise is potentially misleading. It can be cherry-picked to show MATs are more successful or less successful than other types of schools.
A better comparison is between academies and non-academies. The data is clear:
'Attainment levels in mainstream academies and free schools as a group were broadly similar to those in local authority maintained mainstream schools.’
After all the propaganda about how academization, particularly with a sponsor, is the best way to raise achievement, the data shows attainment between primary academies and free schools as a group is more-or-less the same as schools maintained by the much-derided LAs.
*Disadvantaged in this context means those children eligible for free school meals any time in the previous six years.