Are academies the way forward?

Are academies the way forward?

Nicky Morgan recently stated in her speech to the NASWUT union that all schools will be made to change to academy status by 2020.

But does academisation necessarily guarantee better exam results? An independent education data specialist has carried out research in a bid to find out!

SchoolDash, (a website which compiles data on schools using information from Department for Education and Office for National Statistics) analysed exam results from a sample of secondary academies and local authority schools of similar standing to see how they compared, whilst also examining the differences between the two types of academies ‘converted’ and ‘sponsored’.

‘Sponsored’ academies are institutions in need of improvement where ‘converter’ academies were performing well before making the transition.

The findings showed that the status change did, in fact, have a positive impact for these ‘sponsored’ academies. The research revealed that the low-performing schools that converted into sponsor-led academies in 2010-11 or 2011-12 tended to get more positive results when compared GCSE results with similar local authority schools. The report showed that the sponsor-led institutions saw a drop of 3.5% in the proportion of pupils gaining five good GCSEs including English and Maths between 2012/15, compared with a decline of 7.1% at similar local authority schools.

Almost two in three secondary schools in England are now academies; roughly 70% of these are ‘converter’ academies because they were initially schools that were performing well before they became academies. 792 higher-performing schools became ‘converter’ academies in 2010/11 and a year after changing to ‘Academy Status’ had an average of 69.8% of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and Maths, compared with 67.9% at similarly judged local authority schools – a gap of 1.9%. However by 2015, the converted academies were still only 2% ahead, perhaps showing that academisation delivers no real significant improvement.

Timo Hannay, founder of SchoolDash has warned that plans to turn the moderately and highly performing schools into academies could only have a “marginal or non-existent” effect on their performance and perhaps should be left alone?

The report comes shortly after the three main unions, the NUT, NASUWT and ATL, all voted to oppose government plans for all-out academisation at their most recent annual conferences. But does this research justify that the change in status does have a positive effect? The findings of the research suggests that academy status does have a positive effect on underachieving schools, but not much effect on well-run schools. From these results Mr Hannay believes that the academy process seems to encourage weaker schools to catch up, “reducing the gap between the best and worst schools.”

But should every school be forced to make the status and at what cost to the taxpayer?

What must be remembered is that this survey mainly focused on academies that have only had this status for a short period of time. Will the performance of this first wave be consistent for those forced to take the status? And even if the performance is continued for the newly sponsored academies will the improvement be sustained over time? A lot remains in the great unknown, with a lot well run local authorities wondering why they need to convert as they will see no real benefit.

What do you think? Have your say…

One thought on “Are academies the way forward?

  1. First of all, becoming an academy therefore is not only about performance improvement, which it seems to do at poor schools only – not surprising as management change can easily explain this, even if status remained unchanged. Secondly, we should look at how the quality of all management and operational processes is going to be monitored: schools are not just about GCSE results; extracurricular activities, happiness of pupils and teachers, career progression etc are all key factors in schools. State schools are highly regulated by the council and unions; independent schools are regulated by the power of parents who pay fees. Who regulates Academies? It seems to me that academisation will lead to a focus on results (equivalent of shareholder value in public companies) at the expense of other factors listed above, with no way of controlling how a school is managed by the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). At least in public companies, the SLT is regulated by the board AND the shareholders, the latter voting with their feet ultimately. Parents in Academies have little or no power which is the key bone of contention.

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