Skip to main content
article icon

Officials demand scorecards from academies

news | Published in TES magazine on 18 January, 2013 | By: Stephen Exley

Heads’ leaders condemn ‘heavy-handed’ performance monitoring

Academies that are struggling to hit exam targets are coming under intense scrutiny from the government after they were told to submit detailed performance scorecards to officials every six weeks.

The Department for Education has requested the information from around 100 secondary academies that it believes are in danger of dropping below the floor target of 40 per cent of pupils obtaining five A*-C GCSEs, including maths and English. The move is the most widespread intervention by ministers so far into the performance of academies, which have been heavily promoted by the government as key to driving school improvement.

Figures released earlier this month showed that almost 60 per cent of secondary schools have now converted to academy status or are in the process of converting, making them directly answerable to the DfE.

Ministers have championed the extra autonomy given to academies, but heads’ leaders say they now face more intense scrutiny than struggling schools that have not converted. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has accused the DfE of monitoring academies more closely than failing schools placed in special measures.

The scorecards ask for up-to-date data on everything from pupil attainment and attendance to exclusion rates. Academies are also expected to rate their performance in categories such as finance, admissions and the quality of lessons as either “excellent”, “good”, “adequate” or “of concern”, broadly equivalent to Ofsted’s four grades.

Heads are also asked to evaluate the “daily operation of school”, with the options ranging from “good systems, runs smoothly” to “reactive, many ‘incidents’”.

“It’s an extraordinarily detailed intervention,” said ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman. “It is asking for far more information than anything from the local authority or an inspection for a school in special measures. It strikes me as a very bureaucratic, heavy-handed approach.

“Some of the indicators would not change in the course of six weeks. What a struggling school needs is support to improve, rather than to fill in lots of forms and report data. If there are issues in a school it needs to be monitored, but in one particular case the school had just been rated ‘good’ in an inspection.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads’ union the NAHT, said the DfE wanted to avoid the embarrassment of criticism being directed at its flagship academy programme because of underperformance, but warned that the process could be “counterproductive”.

“It’s something the government has to be seen to be getting quite tough on,” said Mr Hobby. “I can see why they’re putting pressure on academies but there is a pace to school improvement. Some schools are not sure they want to complete (the scorecard). I think they can choose to refuse to complete it but it depends whether that’s the message they want to send out.”

Debate about how the performance of academies should be monitored is ongoing. Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has said that he wants the watchdog to inspect increasingly powerful academy chains. But education secretary Michael Gove has said he does not want to add another layer of “bureaucracy” by introducing a “middle tier” between central government and academies.

A spokesman for the DfE confirmed that under the scorecard initiative, it could approach “any academy that we might have concerns about” to take part, but that there were no set criteria that triggered the monitoring.

New Charter Academy in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, has not yet been asked to submit a scorecard, despite its GCSE results dipping 1 per cent below the floor target last year.

“Any academy that is vulnerable to dropping below the floor target is already working extremely hard to raise standards,” said principal Stephen Ball. “This would be a very unwelcome deflection from what we’re trying to do. Michael Gove has spoken about wanting to reduce bureaucracy and trust heads to do their jobs - this seems to fly in the face of that.

“People can already feel the breath of the bull on their backs; this won’t incentivise them to do anything they are not already doing.”

A spokesman for the DfE said: “We haven’t received any concerns from academies about scorecards, and some have said they find this process useful. The data we ask for should be readily available and is requested on a six-weekly basis to fit in with the majority of academies’ own internal data collection.

“We are responsible for monitoring the performance of academies and must challenge and support those that are below, or at risk of falling below, the floor standards.”

Academy explosion

Total number of academies:

  • 203 May 2010
  • 629 April 2011
  • 1,070 August 2011
  • 1,957 July 2012
  • 2,619 January 2013

Crossing sectors

Number of academies by type:

  • 974 Primary
  • 1,584 Secondary
  • 1 PRU
  • 116-19
  • 59 Special schools.


Original headline: Officials demand scorecards from struggling academies

Subscribe to the magazine

4 average rating

Comment (2)

  • Why won't most people be surprised to read this article? This was bound to happen sooner or later as there is a fundamental misconception among a majority of politicians about how education can be most effectively reformed. Put simply, it cannot be done, and ought not be attempted, without the support of those responsible for making change work in schools.

    There are issues for many about the seemingly relentless march of academies across England. Whether their introduction, and the current expansion programme can be justified or not, depends on your perspective. Personally, I find the idea that education is suitable terrain for free-market enterprise ethically challenging. That aside, academies serve growing numbers of pupils and it is about their future and the morale of their teachers that I have concerns. “Failing schools” under the rapidly withering LA set-up, have been under attack for some time. Does this report by Stephen Exley spell the arrival of 'open season' on academies too?

    My beef about the way education reform is undertaken and managed by politicians can be summed up in a word, diktat. Top-down reform of education is quite simply misguided. It is not working in LA schools and it will soon bring problems elsewhere. The Secretary of State has made it his mission to remove “failing schools” from the education landscape. He behaves as if he is the only one who wants change and understands the issues. Like all who dabble, he has no qualms about declaring, 'problem solved'. The Academies Programme is a vital part of his solution.

    Equipped with an education of course, Michael Gove is naturally more than qualified (along with his loyal supporters, all equally dubiously qualified) to determine the future of education. He would do well to remember, like all other Secretaries of State before him, he has a limited time to make his mark before moving on, or being removed from office. The problem for education being, if his solution doesn't work, he won't have to put it right.

    Those who signed up to run and work in academies are about to be abruptly awakened. In time, the roses won't smell so good. After all, education is a complex social enterprise. During periods of stability under effective leadership with a dedicated stable staff profile and appropriate resources, good schools can flourish, as long as pupils are also signed-up to the deal. What teacher wouldn't elect to work under such promising circumstances? The problem is, schools are not steady-state organisations. They change, sometimes very rapidly, even becoming unstable in certain situations. When this happens, solutions are not born out of blame.

    Maybe Michael Gove believes his wholehearted commitment to the formation of academies will solve once-and-for-all the very sticky problem of education reform. What Stephen Exley has written, however, suggests a lasting, much vaunted solution may be some way off.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    18 January, 2013


  • I think this is hilarious - it is clear that many heads were 'gaming' the system; firstly by becoming an academy, then by secretively selecting and/or dumping troubled kids. They also reduced staff costs and dissent by levering out those experienced teachers who were not already leaving and bringing in cheaper, younger staff - the policy preached in the National Leadership centre in Nottingham. They are now protesting because the free market promised turns out to be a far more repressive and centralised system than before.
    However this is bound to be destabilising in the short term, for reasons noted by the previous poster.
    The one thing it won't immediately destabilise, however, is the £100k plus salaries these heads gave themselves or persuaded their sponsor poodles to give them. Time to earn it, folks!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    19 January, 2013


Add your comment

Subscribe to TES magazine
Join TES for free now

Join TES for free now

Four great reasons to join today...

1. Be part of the largest network of teachers in the world – over 2m members
2. Download over 600,000 free teaching resources
3. Get a personalized email of the most relevant resources for you delivered to your inbox.
4. Find out first about the latest jobs in education