The Independent editorial that would make Gove proud

Why is the Independent faithfully reproducing Department for Education propaganda?

Why is the Independent faithfully reproducing Department for Education propaganda?

Consider the following statements:

“The secondary school performance tables show that standards are rising in sponsored academies at a record rate – and more than 5 times as quickly than in all state-funded schools.” – Department for Education press release 24 January 2013

“It is important that Opposition Members are not selective in their use of evidence when they talk about academies and free schools, because academic results are improving faster in sponsored academies than in other schools.” – Michael Gove, Hansard 30 October 2013

“It is still early days but so far the results of the government’s policy of giving schools new freedoms through academy status have been notably impressive. Standards have risen in sponsored academies at a record rate – and more than five times as quickly as in local authority-controlled schools.”Editorial in The Independent, 16 September 2014

“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle.” – Josef Goebbels

It isn’t just members of the public who can be misled by government distortions if they are repeated often enough; editors of left-wing broadsheets also appear to be susceptible. And if they are particularly lazy or compliant, they will even use carefully prepared political slogans in their editorials (“local authority-controlled” comes straight from the Tory spin machine: local authorities do not control maintained schools).

It does not take much research to realise that the above comparison of sponsored academies with all local authority maintained schools – a comparison repeatedly made by government ministers – is highly misleading.

As Henry Stewart from the Local Schools Network has been pointing out for years now, and as this site has also reported on numerous occasions, schools that become sponsored academies are generally schools that have performed very poorly. Such schools have greater capacity for improvement than better performing schools, whether they become sponsored academies or not. They also benefit from greater intervention and oversight.

To assess the effect of a school becoming a sponsored academy, you need to compare like with like; this involves looking at the performance of local authority maintained schools that could have become sponsored academies due to low standards but instead chose to stay under the aegis of the local authority.

When like is compared with like, we can see that at secondary level sponsored academies do no better than their local authority comparators and, critically, primary schools that become sponsored academies perform significantly worse than equivalent local authority schools.

Research by the Local Schools Network that was picked up by The TES but received scant coverage elsewhere showed that primary schools that were eligible to become sponsored academies but which stayed with the local authority improved approximately 5 per cent faster on average than those which converted to sponsored academy status.

The Department for Education has even itself admitted that comparing sponsored academies with all local authority maintained schools is misleading. This admission did not come in any of the many forums where spin is permitted, but in a little-reported court case brought against the Department by the Warren Comprehensive, a school that challenged Michael Gove’s decision to force it to become an academy.

As stated in the court report, Mr Swift, the government’s QC, “accepts that when answering the consultation, responses to the question as to whether becoming an academy would improve the Warren, comparing rates of improvement in sponsored academies and all maintained schools does not compare like with like”. The Department for Education argued that when like was compared with like, “Results in sponsored academies were marginally higher than in a group of similar local authority maintained schools.”

However, as counsel for the Warren pointed out, this marginal difference between sponsored academies and maintained schools was due to the discredited use of so-called GCSE equivalents such as nail technology and horse care. Many of these qualifications will not be counted from next year, a change announced in 2012, and were described by Gove himself as devaluing results.

Once you discount the use of equivalents, the Warren argued, there is not even a slight difference between sponsored academies and equivalent local authority schools at secondary level.

This was not disputed by the Department for Education; rather its QC successfully argued that, in law, there were no grounds for stripping out the use of equivalents when making the comparison.

So what we saw in this case was the rather extraordinary spectacle of the Secretary of State for Education arguing that a school should be forced to become a sponsored academy against the wishes of most staff and parents because, if you include the use of qualifications which he himself had condemned, sponsored academies perform marginally better.

And what about comparing all local authority schools with all academies, does this bear out The Independent’s claim that “so far the results of the Government’s policy of giving schools new freedoms through academy status have been notably impressive”? No, it doesn’t.

When you again discount the use of so-called equivalents, academies do not outperform maintained schools.

Given the existence and availability of so much evidence which undermines the government’s claims about their education reforms, Nicky Morgan must be extremely grateful for her predecessor’s relentless distortions and for media outlets that faithfully and unquestioningly reproduce her department’s propaganda.

Annie Powell is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

2 Responses to “The Independent editorial that would make Gove proud”

  1. Leon Wolfeson

    Good article. It’s no surprise either, since Sweden has had similar issues.

  2. Gary Scott

    To answer the initial question, its a mixture of laziness and corruption.

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