I remember the first time I heard the strongly asserted DfE claim that primary schools who become sponsored academies improve a lot faster than other types of school, such as local authority schools, and that this leads to impressive educational results. Wonderful! I thought. Just what we need! Magic formula! We will soon be a country of brain surgeons, engineers, philosophers and international diplomats! Our literary canon will swell, our educated voices will rise in song, and our British hearts will beat with pride at having discovered such a simple answer to all our educational woes. I therefore decided to carry out a very small investigation into whether this stands up as a claim. Here is how I went about it.
- I have taken three South Cambridgeshire primary schools with broadly similar intakes and structures. These are Fawcett Primary School, William Westley School and Stapleford Community School. These represent schools starting from a high base in terms of their improvement.
- I have taken the three worst performing schools in the UK according to a 2009 BBC article based on official data, but which have stayed in local authority control rather than becoming academies. These schools are Willows Primary School, Bankwood Community Primary, and Bysing Wood Community Primary. These represent schools starting from a very low base in terms of their improvement.
- I have taken four examples of primary schools that have become sponsored academies. They are been chosen to give a spread of dates in terms of when they became academies, with two changing status in 2012 when there was a large increase in the number of schools being required to do this. These schools are Usher Junior School (now Priory Witham Academy, since 2008), Ashburton (now Oasis Shirley Park, since 2009), Downhills (now Philip Harris Lane, 2012) and Nightingale School, Wood Green (now Trinity Primary, since 2012). These schools represent a mix of both high and low bases in terms of their improvement. In other words, some schools were already improving quite rapidly before they became academies, whereas others weren’t.
Next I tracked each school’s KS2 SATS results in English and Maths from 2008-2013. I derived the data from both primary and secondary sources as the official reporting method has changed twice during this period and it is extremely time consuming to derive this information direct from the raw data. I am perfectly happy to be corrected on any of the raw data, by the way – just point out any errors via the comments below and I will upload a correction. However I am reasonably confident the data are reasonably indicative of the overall picture in each case. Finally I plotted the annual results for each school against the average for England overall. My findings were very interesting.
- Improvement nationally in England in KS 2 English and Maths results has been relatively static between 2008-2013.
- Schools that underperform but which remain under local authority control tend to make rapid improvements once any underperformance is identified in the official data.
- Schools that underperform but which become sponsored primary academies tend to experience slower improvement once they become academies.
- Schools that become sponsored primary academies tend to experience a drop in results for 2-4 years before getting back to the original performance levels. The exception to this is Oasis Shirley Park, but this school experienced a particularly marked results ‘bounce’ after an initial steep drop from 2009-2012.
Therefore from this admittedly small, but carefully constructed sample, it looks as though underperforming schools remaining in local authority control are likely to experience faster improvement in KS2 results in English and Maths for many pupils, and avoid a 2-4 year dip in performance. Oh dear. Perhaps someone might like to check this against a larger dataset, just in case the sample really was too small to be helpful? After all, it would be very disappointing to find out all that public money was spent for no purpose at all.
Look below for my workbook, if you would like to see the data I was using or the chart I created to track improvement. Click on the icon in the bottom right hand corner if you would like the workbook to grow to its full size. As I say, it’s useful to know if there are any arithmetical corrections needed, so feel free to comment.
Footnotes  In the Fawcett Primary School data, the 2011 data are anomalous due to an unusual cohort of children (small class, extremely high levels of ESOL, most children in cohort there for <18 months).  KS2 English and Maths results represent one very crude measure of how a school is doing, which emphasis summative test performance, and the measure may be influenced by parents paying for private tutoring over which schools have no control.  In 2010 many schools did not submit results due to NAHT industrial action, so I have carried forward the previous year’s data in each case in order to populate the chart, as our main concern is with change over time.