Education and Adoption Bill

Written evidence submitted by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) (EAB 28)

Introduction

1. The purpose of this memorandum is to provide a commentary from the National Union of Teachers on the Education and Adoption Bill. The NUT is the largest teachers’ union and has over 330,000 members.

2. This submission sets out the key proposals of importance to the Union and identifies where we believe clarification or amendments would be useful.

SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT

3. Ministers have said that the focus of the Bill is to improve schools and give all children the best possible start in life. For this to happen, the NUT believes that the new Government should be offering, or opening, a real conversation about school improvement, or how to achieve excellence for all children. What we have instead, despite the evidence, is the Government relying solely on academy status as a means of delivering school improvement. There is now a strong evidence base to show that there is no ‘academy effect’ in terms of delivering school improvement. A summary of this evidence is provided at Annex 1.

4. The Government may well find it difficult to find enough good sponsors for the large number of new academies which the Government envisages. There are approximately 265 chains running three or more academies, but hundreds more with just one or two schools. Just 23 chains run ten or more schools and ten of these run 20 or more. The largest chain (AET) runs 52 academies.

5. The Sutton Trust found only three chains performing well for disadvantaged children across a range of measures, a finding confirmed in the Department for Education's own report on academy chain performance. [1] The Trust concluded that the very poor results of some academy chains – both for pupils generally and for the disadvantaged pupils they were particularly envisaged to support – comprised "a clear and urgent problem". [2]

6. Given the above, the NUT would welcome an amendment to the Bill to include provision for academy chains to be inspected by Ofsted in the same way that local authorities are inspected. A further amendment would improve the Academies Act 2010 by requiring the Secretary of State to have regard to the track record of an academy chain before appointing that academy proprietor to run a new academy.

COASTING SCHOOLS

7. Clause 1 widens the legal definition of schools ‘eligible for intervention’ to cover a new category applicable to maintained schools that are deemed to be ‘coasting schools’. It should be noted that this label applies only to maintained schools, although many academies are likely to fulfil the criteria that has now been laid down.

8. The definition of a ‘coasting school’ was published by the Secretary of State on 30 June:

9. For primary schools, the ‘coasting’ definition will apply to those schools which in 2014 and 2015 have fewer than 85% of children achieving Level 4 in reading, writing and maths and which also have below average proportions of pupils making expected progress between age seven and age 11 and which, in 2016, fall below a ‘coasting’ level set against the new accountability regime which will require pupils to achieve a higher expected standard and schools being measured against a new measure of progress.

10. Secondary schools will be deemed ‘coasting’ if in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve five A*-C grade GCSEs including English and maths and they are below the median level of expected progress and, in 2016, they fall below a level set against the new Progress 8 measure (the level being set after the 2016 results are available). A school will have to be below those levels in all three years to be defined as ‘coasting’. By 2018, the definition of ‘coasting’ will be based entirely on Progress 8 and will not have an attainment element.

11. Because the ‘coasting’ definition will apply to school performance in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and because the required standard in 2016 will not be determined until results that year are known, it is not possible to say with any certainty how many schools will be caught within the definition.

12. The Secretary of State talked about coasting schools in "leafy areas" and has stated that, on current performance, the Government expects "hundreds of schools" to be so defined. However other experts have produced far larger estimates of both the number, and the type of schools, likely to be caught in the 'coasting' definition.

13. Education Datalab brings together an expert team of academics, researchers and statisticians specialising in the analysis of large-scale administrative and survey datasets. Based on data from previous years, Education Datalab suggests there would be 1,200 ‘coasting’ schools. [3] Henry Stewart, of the Local Schools Network, calculated there would be 2,833 and provides an explanation of how his approach differs to that used by Education Datalab. [4]

14. Furthermore, as both Education Datalab and Henry Stewart point out, the measures chosen will disproportionately impact upon schools with disadvantaged pupils, not those in affluent areas. [5] As Dr Rebecca Allen, of Datalab, said in her evidence to the Bill Committee, "if a school serves an affluent community, then it will not be judged to be coasting using these metrics".

LOCAL DEMOCRATIC ACCOUNTABILITY

15. The Secretary of State for Education will assume far greater powers under these proposals. In the process, the NUT is concerned that the voice of local communities (be they school governing bodies, democratically accountable local authorities, parents or school staff) will be diminished.

16. As the Chief Executive of the National Go vernors’ Association has said: " This Bill represents a further centralisation of decision making regarding our schools; it does not sit well with the Government’s rhetoric about school autonomy as it not only removes the right for parents to be consulted, but it will give the Secretary of State power to overrule the decisions of local decision makers, whether those are the school governing body or the local authority ." [6]

17. The NUT would welcome the following amendments to the Bill to improve local democratic accountability:

18. The Academies Act 2010 should be amended by stating that parents of children at the school and the staff of the school should be consulted on the momentous decision of whether a school should become an academy. An amendment would make a statutory requirement of self-evident good practice and would reduce the sense, felt by parents and staff in many situations, that their school is being handed over to someone else, above their heads, without even an opportunity to comment.

19. Where a school is to become an academy, the parents of children at the school and staff at the school should be consulted about the identity of the academy sponsor. Parents and staff need to have confidence that the proposed sponsor will deliver real and lasting educational improvement so need to be consulted.

20. Clause 10 of the Bill should be deleted. It provides that where a school is the subject of an Academy Order the governing body and the local authority must work towards the school’s conversion into an academy. This clause is both unnecessary and potentially dangerous. It is unnecessary because many schools have become academies without the need for such a statutory provision. It is dangerous because governing bodies and local authorities may have continuing arguments that the academy order was unlawfully or otherwise improperly imposed. The clause appears to "dragoon" governing bodies into doing what they are told in disregard of their responsibilities, including under the Education Act 2002 at section 21, to have responsibility for the well-being of the school and to have regard to the views expressed by parents.

21. Many of the powers assumed by the Secretary of State are to be taken up by the Regional School Commissioners (RSCs). These commissioners have a remit largely to promote and expand the academy and free school programme. They have also assumed the extended powers of the Secretary of State over intervention in maintained schools. This constitutes a massive increase in their power and influence over all local schools.

22. RSCs have performance targets in respect of their remit. The NUT considers there is potential for a huge conflict of interest if RSCs are to be simultaneously rewarded for academising schools at the same time as being tasked with identifying schools for academisation.

July 2015

ANNEX 1: EVIDENCE ON ACADEMY STATUS AND SCHOOL PERFORMANCE

1. In October 2014, the National Audit Office report, ‘Academies and maintained schools: Oversight and intervention’, found informal interventions such as local support were more effective than academy conversion.

2. In January, 2015, the House of Commons Education Committee concluded that: "it is too early to judge whether academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children". [7] They stated that: "Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school".

3. The Education Committee also concluded that: "We have sought but not found convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools." [8] Following this, an analysis of the 2014 school-by-school KS2 SATs results by Henry Stewart of the Local Schools Network found sponsored primary academies’ results increased at a slower rate than similar non-academies in the immediate period after conversion. [9]

4. The Education Committee also highlighted significant variation between different academy chains. [10] Similarly, a 2014 report by the Sutton Trust found only three chains performing well for disadvantaged children. It concluded that: "The very poor results of some chains – both for pupils generally and for the disadvantaged pupils they were particularly envisaged to support – comprises a clear and urgent problem". [11]

5. The Government has also frequently claimed that GCSE results show that sponsored academies are improving at a faster rate than non-academies. But sponsored academies are generally those schools whose exam results were lower in previous years, so the rate of improvement tends to be higher. Detailed analysis of the exam data shows that when schools with similar results in previous years are compared, sponsored academies do no better, and sometimes do worse. [12]

6. The Local Government Association (LGA) commissioned NFER to look at the evidence on academy performance and NFER has now published, ‘Analysis of academy school performance in GCSEs 2014: Final report’. [13] NFER state that: "The analysis shows that the amount of attainment progress made by pupils in sponsored and converter academies is not greater than in maintained schools with similar characteristics".

7. Ofsted’s annual report for 2013/14 pointed out that the rate of improvement in GCSE attainment in schools that converted to academy status in 2010/11 was less than in comparable local authority maintained schools. Converter academies improved GCSE attainment by one percentage point whereas maintained schools that were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted improved by two percentage points. [14]

8. In previous years, sponsored academies have also been more likely to rely on equivalent qualifications to bolster performance in the GCSE benchmark measure. [15] The Government was critical of the extent to which equivalents were taken in some schools and, in 2014, significantly reduced the number of equivalent qualifications in the benchmark figures. This change meant that overall results fell much more in sponsored academies in 2014 than in similar maintained schools. [16]

9. Among children with low prior achievement, Professor Stephen Machin and Dr Olmo Silva found that the effects of a school becoming a sponsored academy on students in the bottom 10 and 20 per cent of the ability distribution were "insignificantly different from zero - and possibly negative for later [school] conversions…suggesting no beneficial effects on students in academies". [17]

10. Analysis by Professor Stephen Gorard, looking at school performance and intake from 2004 to 2012, found no clear evidence that academies outperformed the schools which they replaced or similar local authority schools with equivalent intakes. He also found no evidence of any benefit for schools which are already performing well converting to academies. [18]

11. 133 academies are rated as ‘Inadequate’ (June 2015). An investigation by Schools Week [19] found 28 schools that were ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ when they first converted to academy status but which have subsequently fallen into special measures.

12. In June 2015, Henry Stewart analysed Ofsted data for secondary schools where there have been two inspections. [20] He found that for secondary schools previously rated as ‘inadequate’, sponsored academies were twice as likely to stay ‘inadequate’ as maintained schools (18% v 9%) while non-academies were over three times more likely to move from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ than sponsored academies (27% v 6%). Sponsored academies were twice as likely to see their rating fall from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘inadequate’; and for secondary schools previously rated ‘good’, they were almost four times as likely (19% v 5%) to fall to ‘inadequate’ if they were sponsored academies.

13. One of the ironies of the Bill is that as of April 2015 there were proportionally more ‘inadequate’ academies than maintained schools. There were around 1,000 maintained schools with this rating (less than 2%) compared with 133 academies (4.4%). The 133 inadequate academies include 28 that were rated good or outstanding at the time of conversion. Some 50% of sponsored academies were rated requires improvement or inadequate at their first inspection as an academy.

14. The NUT believes the Government should focus on school improvement initiatives such as City Challenge which are cost-effective and proven to drive up standards. Professor Merryn Hutchings, lead author of the DfE’s evaluation of the City Challenge programme found that: "The evidence that the London Challenge was a successful approach to school improvement is overwhelming. It was also comparatively cheap; over three years the funding for City Challenge was £160 million, considerably cheaper than the £8.5 billion reportedly spent on the academies’ programme over two years". [21]

15. Furthermore, there are many examples of how, with the right support, head teachers and their staff have supported schools in their school improvement journey to take them out of difficulty and raise standards for their children. There is no short cut to school improvement that can be achieved simply by changing the status of a school. Supporting committed heads and teachers to improve schools where there are genuine difficulties is an infinitely preferable approach, to the Government’s plans to sack head teachers in ‘failing’ or ‘coasting’ schools whilst stigmatising the pupils and teachers within them.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-in-academy-chains-and-las-performance-measures

[2] http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chain-effects-july-14-final-1.pdf(page 54)

[3] http://www.educationdatalab.org.uk/Blog/June-2015/Secondary-schools-serving-affluent-communities-are.aspx#.VZ6OdE3bLAU

[4] http://schoolsweek.co.uk/2833-or-1179-how-many-schools-will-fall-under-the-new-coasting-definition/

[5] http://schoolsweek.co.uk/2833-or-1179-how-many-schools-will-fall-under-the-new-coasting-definition/

[6] http://www.nga.org.uk/News/NGA-News/Education-and-Adoption-Bill-Published.aspx

[7] Education Committee (January 2015), Academies and free schools. Fourth Report of Session 2014–15, London: The Stationery Office Limited. p. 23. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmeduc/258/258.pdf

[8] See Note 1.

[9] Henry Stewart (2 February 2015), ‘Does academy conversion actually lead to slower improvement in schools? Available at: www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/02/does-academy-conversion-actually-lead-to-slower-improvement-in-schools/

[10] See Note 1.

[11] Chain Effects: The impact of academy chains on low income students in sponsored secondary academies (July 2014, Professors Becky Francis, Merryn Hutchings and Robert De Vries).

[12] Henry Stewart (25 February 2014), ‘2011 GCSEs: What the data tells us about academies and non-academies’, [blog post]. Available at: www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/02/2011-gcses-what-the-data-tells-us-about-academies-and-non-academies/#sthash.3vL8mHc8.dpuf; and Stewart (30 May 2013), ‘The Academies Illusion: What the data reveals’ [blog post]. Available at:www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/05/the-academies-illusion-what-the-data-reveals/

[13] The report is available at: www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/LGGA03/LGGA03_home.cfm

[14] Ofsted (2014), The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2013/14, London: Ofsted. p.17. Available at: www.ofsted.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/ar201314/Ofsted%20Annual%20Report%20201314%20HMCI%20commentary.pdf

[15] Henry Stewart (13 August 2014) ‘DfE accepts (in court) that academies do no better once GCSE equivalents are stripped out’ [blog post]. Available at:

[15] www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/07/dfe-accepts-in-court-that-academies-do-no-better-once-equivalents-are-stripped-out/

[16] Henry Stewart (29 January 2015) ‘GCSE tables: Sponsored academy results fall more’ [blog post]. Available at: www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/01/gcse-tables-sponsored-academy-results-fall-more/

[17] S. Machin and O. Silva, (2013) ‘School structure, school autonomy and the tail’, in P. Marshall (ed.), The Tail: How England’s schools fail once child in five – and what can be done, London: Profile Books, p. 99.

[18] Stephen Gorard (2014) 'The link between Academies in England, pupil outcomes and local patterns of socio-economic segregation between schools', Research papers in education, 29 (3). pp. 268-284.

[19] http://schoolsweek.co.uk/the-questions-nicky-morgan-refused-to-answer/

[20] www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/06/the-education-bill-a-solution-that-will-harm-schools/

[21] Merryn Hutchings (2013), ‘Why is attainment higher in London than elsewhere?’ [online]. Available: www.teachers.org.uk/node/17429

Prepared 14th July 2015