News story

Response to the Observer article

Response to an article in the Observer about Academy performance.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Last weekend’s Observer made a number of claims about academy performance. Much of their analysis was based on a simplistic comparison between all schools and academies - nearly all of which were previously failing local authority maintained schools. As academies are having to recover from such a low base such a comparison is nonsensical.

The Observer also claim that academies with poor results in 2008 have improved no faster than maintained schools with poor results over the same period. But this analysis excludes the most successful academies that opened between 2001 to 2007 and which had already seen huge improvements. Research by the LSE found results were strongest for schools that have been academies for longer.


  • The analysis of progress measures is limited because the league tables consider progress of pupils over the full five years in secondary school. All pupils in academies will have spent the majority of their time in the underperforming predecessor school not the academy.
  • They do not take into account spill-over effects, e.g. local authority schools improving because an academy has opened nearby (as the London School of Economics has suggested is happening).
  • They have used a narrow way of comparing schools, looking purely at the free school meal intake.

The government and the NAO actually use a wider range of data to create comparator statistics. We look at FSM rates, previous results and prior attainment levels of pupils. This means we are genuinely comparing like for like.

Facts on academy results

  • This year, yet again, academies’ GCSE results improved by nearly twice the level seen across all maintained schools
  • Attendance figures at academies are rising faster than in other schools, and the number of NEETs are falling faster in academies than other schools. (NAO report)
  • The London Schools of Economics (LSE) found that academies improve faster than comparator schools even when controlling for pupil intake and the use of GCSE “equivalent” qualifications. They also found that academies effect helped raise standards in other local schools
  • The attainment rate for FSM pupils in academies improved by 8.0 percentage points between 2009 and 2010. This more than double the improvement rate recorded in comparable schools (3.1 percentage points) and also much higher than the national improvement rate for FSM pupils (4.3 percentage points).
  • Results in sponsored academies are generally higher for those that have been open the longest. In 2011, the proportion of pupils achieving 5+ A*to C including English and maths was 42.7 % in sponsored academies open for one year and 52.0 % in those open for 5 or more years. (Department for Education research)

Individual sponsor groups show big rises across their academies. For example:

Harris Federation academies averaged a 13 percentage point increase.

ARK Schools academies averaged a 11 percentage point increase.

Oasis showed an average 9.5 percentage point improvement across their academies which had been open for 2 years.

ULT results show a 7.5 percentage point improvement across their 17 academies - with 6 academies showing improvements of more than 10 percentage points.

Below is the full quote given to the Observer:

A Department spokesman said:

This is a weak and poor snapshot analysis - it’s ridiculous to lump in the lowest performing schools which may have only become academies 5 months ago, with ones which have been established for years.

The fact is that the longer the vast majority of sponsored academies are open, the better the results - far outstripping the underperforming schools they replaced, far faster than the national average and with higher proportion rated outstanding by Ofsted. We know that the poorest pupils make faster progress in academies than in other state schools. The critics can’t ignore overwhelming international evidence which shows that giving schools independence drives up standards and LSE’s research that academies have a knock on effect on results in neighbouring schools.

We do not hesitate in taking robust action in any state-school which does not improve at the pace we expect. Ministers have tough powers to intervene where needed - including removing sponsor, or taking control of the governing body.

DfE enquiries

Central newsdesk - for journalists 020 7783 8300

General enquiries - for members of the public 0370 000 2288

Published 28 February 2012