Teachers criticise ‘badly flawed’ evidence for making all schools academies

The NEU teachers’ union said ministers have used ‘highly misleading’ evidence to make the case for all schools becoming academies by 2030.

30 March 2022

Teachers’ leaders have questioned “badly flawed” Government evidence over its aims for all schools to join multi-academy trusts by 2030.

In the Schools White Paper, published on Monday, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi set out plans for all schools to either have become academies by 2030, or be in the process of joining an MAT by this date.

But the NEU teachers’ union has criticised the evidence for the proposals as “badly flawed”.

It said that the DfE had produced a study on the benefits of schools becoming academies in 2014, and that it had extended this analysis to “see how the picture has developed over the last decade”.

The union said the findings “do not look good” for the Government’s plans, and that: “On the basis of this evidence from Ofsted judgements, the Government should not be proceeding with plans to require all schools to join MATS.”

“The evidence suggests that schools that join MATs are less likely to improve and more likely to fall back,” the union said.

The analysis of Ofsted outcomes for state schools found that primary schools which were not academies were more likely to retain an “outstanding” grade from Ofsted in inspections than other types of school.

It found that 30% of outstanding primary schools under the local authority kept their “outstanding” status, compared with seven per cent of primary schools in MATs.

For “outstanding” primary schools that were moved from one MAT to another, none retained the “outstanding” judgment.

Just 12% of local authority primary schools rated “good” or better fell to less than good in their subsequent inspection, compared with 35% of primary schools in MATs, the study found.

It revealed that 50% of primary schools previously rated “good” or better by Ofsted when in a MAT lost their status if they moved to another multi-academy trust.

Half of local authority secondary schools kept their rating of “outstanding” over two inspections. The same proportion of secondary converter academies – former LA schools who joined a MAT – kept their status, but for secondary schools that had always been academies this fell to 30%.

Kevin Courtney
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, has criticised the Government’s plan (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The NEU’s analysis found that the Department for Education’s 2022 “case for a fully-led trust system”, which argues the case for all schools becoming academies, had misreported Ofsted grades for many schools and claimed them for schools in MATs when they were achieved at a time when the school was under the local authority.

The NEU said the DfE had failed to point out the best-performing MATs had lower proportions of disadvantaged pupils while the worst-performing had much higher proportions of poorer pupils, and that it had failed to report Pupil Premium information for its samples in a way that was “highly misleading”.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The NEU’s analysis renders nonsensical the Government’s drive towards academisation in the name of standards.

“It demonstrates that there is no compelling reason for a school to join a trust. It also provides strong evidence against the re-brokering of schools from one MAT to another.

“The Government’s latest call in the White Paper to encourage or force more schools into academy trusts will not achieve what it sets out to do. Nadhim Zahawi says he wants to be driven by evidence. He must respond to this evidence and must pause this ideological drive.

“Teachers and parents want the Government to focus their efforts on supporting schools to improve what works and to drop their ideological obsession with marketisation.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The claims made are incorrect and based upon selective data, mispresenting our published evidence.

“We have a decade of evidence that academy trusts can transform underperforming schools. More than seven out of 10 schools that have become academies due to underperformance now have a Good or Outstanding Ofsted rating, compared to about one in 10 of the local authority maintained schools they replaced.

“We want all schools to be part of a strong academy trust so they can benefit from the trust’s support in everything from teacher training, curriculum, financial planning and inclusivity towards children with additional needs, to excellent behaviour and attendance cultures. This lets schools focus on what parents and children want and need – great teaching for every child.”

The NEU said it did not dispute that academy trusts could transform underperforming schools, but had placed this in context.

It added that 4,432 schools have converted from maintained schools to academies since their last inspection.

The NEU said that the DfE did not “point out that the small size [of their sample of MATs] leads to greater variation and hence the top will inevitably do better and the bottom worse, instead they use this mathematical fact to make a claim”.

“Nor do the DfE report that the ‘best MATs’ have the lowest proportion of pupils qualifying for the Pupil Premium. The DfE repeat the claim, ‘the best MATs transform outcomes for pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged’; however, they again fail to point out that the best MATs for all pupil test results is not the same group as the best MATs for disadvantaged pupils. This is misleading.”

Mr Courtney added: “We stand by the NEU analysis and our critique of the DfE figures.

“The DfE data uses inappropriately small samples (the top 10% of MATs for example) and suppresses information about the number of children with pupil premium  – which makes the conclusions the DfE draws misleading.

“It is misleading for the DfE to say as their defence ‘what if all MATs performed as well as the top 10% of MATs that education would be improved’ – because they have no data to support this premise.

“The DfE says NEU figures focus solely on primary schools, this is not the case.
“Our data covers secondary schools as well, but if the DfE doesn’t think there is enough data to draw conclusions for primary schools then why are they proposing to force them all to join MATs?

“Our data is correct – the DfE does not like the findings. The DfE needs to withdraw their analysis for further study.”

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