Are academies really a success?

10th March 2006 at 00:00
Government claims challenged by The TES using new statistics obtained under Freedom of Information Act. William Stewart and Warwick Mansell report

Government claims that academies are improving their GCSE results faster than other schools have been thrown into question by a TES analysis.

The new independent state secondaries recorded below-average GCSE improvements in 2005 under a new government rankings which emphasises the core subjects of English and maths.

Separate figures show that only one in nine academy pupils achieved at least a C in English, maths and science last year. Only 5 per cent achieved at least C in geography, and 5 per cent in history.

Tony Blair hailed the 2005 results at his flagship secondaries to support his controversial education Bill reforms, in which all schools are to be offered academy-style freedoms.

The prime minister, using the old measure of GCSE performance, praised a 14-point improvement on the results of their predecessor schools, from 21 to 35 per cent of pupils achieving five or more A*-C grade GCSEs in any subject.

Yet figures, obtained by the TES, show that the improvements are not nearly so dramatic under the new GCSE measure which will be used to rank schools after this summer's exams.

These show that, in 2005, 16 per cent of academy pupils achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths, or vocational equivalent. This was a rise of 3 percentage points on the 13 per cent achieved by the schools the academies replaced.

Mr Blair highlighted an 8 percentage point increase in academy results last year - three times the national average increase. But, under the new measure, academies' scores increased by only 1.3 percentage points, to under 16 per cent. By contrast, the national increase was 1.7 points, to more than 44 per cent.

Ministers and their critics agree that academies need to be given time to improve.

But the analysis reveals that two of the three which have been open the longest - Unity City academy, Middlesbrough, and Greig City academy, north London - had worse results on the new measure than their predecessor schools.

The new figures for the 2005 results suggest academies will plunge further down the league tables than any other type of school when the new measure is introduced.

Other schools will also fare badly under the new measure partly because their positions have been based on controversial vocational qualifications, but not to the same extent as academies. The new figures were obtained by the TES through the Freedom of Information Act and by David Chaytor, Labour MP for Bury North in a Parliamentary question.

They show that when general national vocational qualifications are removed the percentage of pupils shown as gaining five good GCSEs falls by at least half in eight of the 14 academies.

In one, Walsall academy, the 67 per cent shown in this year's league table slumps to 7 per cent.

GNVQs count, in the old measure, as four GCSEs, but can take the same teaching time as a single maths GCSE. They also have higher pass rates than most GCSEs.

Critics say this gives schools an incentive to put pupils on the courses, even though their value to employers and universities has been questioned.

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said academies were working, with results outstripping the schools they replaced. The old measure was the Government's chosen indicator for judging academies.



Tony Blair January 23, 2006.

"Academies are replacing some of the most difficult and failed schools in the entire country. The proportion now getting five good GCSEs, including GNVQs, at city academies is 35 per cent compared with 21 per cent in their predecessor schools and that is literally within just a couple of years.

This reform (the education white paper) is based on what works,"

In fact ...

In 2005, 16 per cent of the 2,086 academy pupils achieved five good GCSEs or equivalent, including English and maths, the Government's new measure of performance. That compared with 13 per cent in the schools they replaced, a rise of 3 percentage points. Only 18.8 per cent of academy pupils gained five A*-C GCSEs, excluding GNVQs, compared with 17.2 per cent in their predecessor schools' final years, an improvement of just 1.6 percentage points.

Tony Blair October 2005.

"We have seen academies - still relatively new independent state schools - improving this year at more than three times the national average."

In fact ...

The increase in the proportion of academy pupils achieving five or more GCSEs, including English and maths, was 1.3 points. The national average rise was 1.7 points.

Jacqui Smith, Schools minister, February 15, 2006.

"Of the 14 academies open at the time of the last round of GCSEs, all but two showed an increase in the proportion of students achieving five grades A* to C relative to their predecessor schools."

In fact ...

Only nine of 14 academies improved on the performance of the schools they replaced using the old GCSE measure.

Jacqui Smith August 25, 2005.

"The majority of academies have shown good progress in their GCSE results.

Ten out of 14 taking the exams this summer are reporting rises in the number of students gaining five good grades.

In fact

On the new measure eight academies improved, five went down and one stayed the same.

Jacqui Smith August 25, 2005.

"Greig City academy is reporting a 27 point rise in the numbers gaining five good grades from 25 per cent last year to 52 per cent."

In fact ...

Only 13 per cent of Greig academy students achieved five good GCSEs, excluding GNVQs, in any subject and just 10 per cent made the new five good GCSE benchmark.

On the latter benchmark the academy's performance was barely half the 19 per cent scored at St David and St Katherine CE, its predecessor school in 2002, its final year.

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