Chris Cook Academies are not all alike

In today’s Times, Greg Hurst writes about concerns that some academy chains might be a bit overstretched and find it difficult to continue growing. It has been pretty well established that the first round of “sponsor” academy takeovers was a success. The chains definitely improved the failing schools that they took over.

But some of the groups mentioned by Greg are not doing that well. To start with, here is a sample of academy chains’ results, using the government’s favourite measure: what proportion of children got Cs or better in English, maths and three other GCSE subjects in 2011? I have only included schools in the measure under their current leadership for three full years or more.

ProviderTotalLow PAMid PAHigh PA
Academies Enterprise Trust (AET)55.8%28%74%95%
Ark Schools63%70%83%93%
The Bourne Family Trust82%88%75%100%
Harris Federation67%62%86%100%
Jack Petchey Foundation61%43%59%92%
Thomas Telford School57%47%89%100%
United Learning Trust (ULT)50%33%73%92%

To make it easier to compare them, I have also included a simple second measure: how did the schools do if you only look at children who, when they started at the school, were lower prior attainers, based on their results at 11, mid attainers and high attainers.

These are children who, in standardised tests at primary school, came in the 20th to 30th, the 45th to 55th and 70th to 80th percentiles nationally, respectively. This means that you can look at how the schools did with academically similar 11-year-olds.

What’s quite curious is that the table looks very different if, instead of using the government measure, you use a better one – the FT point score. We award 8 points for an A* down to one point for a G for every kid’s GCSEs, then add up what they get in English, maths and their three best other subjects.

ProviderTotalLow PAMid PAHigh PA
Academies Enterprise Trust (AET)22.1217.5324.8929.67
Ark Schools23.5523.7626.4831.67
The Bourne Family Trust28.9128.4129.3134.92
Harris Federation23.0022.3625.5628.40
Jack Petchey Foundation25.1020.6427.9529.08
Thomas Telford School19.1318.2826.0028.38
United Learning Trust (ULT)20.6317.4825.1829.74

I would draw attention to one big shift, in particular. Ark and Harris – eternally twinned as the two paragons of academy success – no longer look alike. Indeed, you can see that Ark does significantly better. And this probably understates the shift.

If you take family circumstance into account, Ark looks even better. Using a simple model, you can work out how much better school chains perform once you also add in the ethnicity, deprivation and special needs of their pupils.

Academies Enterprise Trust (AET)-2.17
The Bourne Family Trust8.04
Harris Federation0.46
Jack Petchey Foundation3.43
Thomas Telford School-0.85
United Learning Trust (ULT)-0.26

This table tells you how much better or worse school chains do, on average, than a similarly able child from a similar background being taught in another borough that the statistician specifies: in this case, I have chosen to compare every child to Birmingham.

You can see the Bourne Family Trust is spectacular – two grades better in four subjects. Its only school in the sample, Mossbourne, really is that good. Sir Michael Wilshaw, now the chief inspector, ran a spectacular success.

All in all, it appears that among the multi-school academy chains, Ark is the best. And some, if you look, are struggling. To be clear: these chains mostly took over failing schools to begin with. But some have really struggled to turn them around and get them above the Birmingham watermark. Ark is not a terribly similar creature to ULT or AET.

For those who are interested, the best performing secondary school chain, when you include all comers, is actually Westminster Council. It scores 4.1 on the “adjusted” measure. But its reign may be fleeting: some of these schools have become converter academies. Other high performers include Islington and Hackney (both 3.3).

This measure also highlights the M25 divide: the best non-London borough is the Wirral on 2.0 – behind 19 of the London boroughs. We will come back to this, publishing all of it in full when the the full, corrected 2012 results are available.