CEP AND ACADEMY PERFORMANCE
Academies do better than predecessor schools but…
There have been a number of reports seeking to determine whether Academies improve performance.
Evaluations from the National Audit Office (2007)- ‘GCSE performance is improving faster in academies than in other types of school, including those in similar circumstances, and the gap between the best and worst performance of individual academies has narrowed’ . And the Public Accounts Committee (2007) ‘There are signs of progress; for example, the GCSE performance of academies has increased faster than that of other schools, and there have been improvements at Key Stage 3 (age 14)’ chart some progress in attainment but both reports include the caveat that it is early days.
Probably the most referenced reports are a five year evaluation conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and a study by Machin and Wilson of the Centre for Economic Performance (2009).
PwC carry out quantitative analysis of pupil performance, by comparing improvement in final school year exams (the General Certificate of Education, or GCSE) in Academies, with the national average and with a selected group of schools. They find that improvements in pupil achievement of Academy Schools have generally exceeded corresponding improvements, both at the national level and when compared with other, similar schools.
However, Machin and Wilson criticise the PwC report. They argue that, because the schools that become Academies were typically the worst performing schools in their respective Local Education Authorities (LEAs), a comparison between Academies and the national average is not a good one due to the issue of ‘ mean reversion’ (which in layman’s terms means that schools at the bottom of the stack are likely to bounce back towards the mean level of attainment, regardless of whether or not they are Academies). Machin and Wilson therefore evaluate the Academies performance relative to comparable schools that are also likely to experience mean reversion. Once they take account of this and pre-policy developments in GCSE scores, they find little evidence of general positive effects of Academy status on academic achievement.
Some Academies have posted exceptional results, others less so but only one thing is absolutely clear at this stage, results have been variable and opposing sides in what is a polarised debate will summon credible evidence in support of their respective cases. What has made life difficult for those looking at the performance of Academies is harvesting information on what exams pupils sit and the extent to which there might be gaming going on ,to secure league table advantage (entering pupils for the easiest subjects -an issue raised by Civitas). Commentators in the media tend to focus on the extremes in the spectrum-the outstanding and the obviously failing. What falls beneath the radar are the Academies that have seriously disadvantaged intakes, with high levels of SEN, FSM and few pupils with English as their first language but which show year on year improvements, from a very low starting base. If you are tracking improvements you should look carefully at the intake of the schools and at the results over a sustained period, rather than seeking a snap shot devoid of context, before coming to any definitive conclusions .If one school stands out in an area, either in a positive or negative sense, look very carefully at its intake. How many pupils does it have on SEN and FSM, and is it above or below the LEA average? And it is worth remembering, whether variable results or not-Academies remain popular with parents and that counts . Also it seems Local authority bosses in charge of children’s services across the country are warming to Academies calling for all schools to become academies. Directors of children’s services have written to Education Secretary Michael Gove outlining plans for local authorities to play a more active part in transforming all schools into academies, while stressing the important role Las should play over planning school places and admissions