Monday, 14 December 2009

City Academies - your secret is safe

A recent report by think-tank Civitas - The secrets of Academies' success - (spotted in a Times story) has criticised City Academies for being secretive and for forcing students to take vocational rather than academic qualifications.

Unfortunately there isn't much in it about individual academies because, as the report makes clear, they are not subject to the Freedom of Information act and protect their privacy.

In its conclusion the report says: "Whilst the government has expressly asked us to judge Academies on their results, we are being expressly prevented from doing so."

Civitas asked 118 academies, 40 responded, only 16 gave a breakdown of their results.

The report said:
88 per cent of Academy principals surveyed think that their Academy is progressing either very well or well
55 per cent of principals think that Academies' results, broken down by subject, should be made publicly available
43 per cent of Academy principals agreed to release their results

One of the key findings was that Academies are chasing results and forcing students into taking vocational courses because it's easier to get better grades in them.

While most people won't know that this is even going on, some might find consolation in the fact that Oftsted has been critical of this practice and might keep it in check.

But Christine Gilbert, the head of Ofsted, won her post thanks to her record at Tower Hamlets - where this practice appeared to be rife.

In 2003, while she was chief executive, Tower Hamlets was singled out as the most improved local authority in the country for its GCSE results. The spear-head of this improvement was Sir John Cass School in Stepney which was the most improved school in the country. In 2002 just 36% of its pupils achieved five A*-C GCSEs. But in 2003 this leapt up to 69%.

So how was this incredible turnaround achieved? All pupils at GCSE level had to take GNVQ science which counted as four A*-C GCSEs. As the headteacher of another Tower Hamlets school pointed out at the time, many of the students achieving five A*-C grades at GCSE had only taken one GCSE.

With all the hype aimed at Academies, parents might be getting a straighter story from run-of-the-mill secondary schools (it singles out Stoke Newington school as a positive example).

The most worrying claim is that academies are not acting in the interest of their students but to bolster their overall grades.

The Civitas report says: "To target Academies for potentially using weak vocational qualifications to bolster their results may seem unfair when this is also happening in other maintained – as well as private – schools. This is indeed a legitimate point, however: firstly, in the case of mainstream maintained schools there is no accompanying 'hype' about their rate of improvement. Academies by contrast are extolled as the 'vanguard' of school improvement and educational excellence. Furthermore, the aim, in theory at least, is for Academies to improve rather than diminish the life chances of their deprived targeted cohort."

The report: The secrets of Academies' success

The report says: "Whilst Ofsted has frequently praised the 'breadth' of Academies' curricula in its reporting, alluding to the offer of a mixture of vocational and academic options, the inspectorate has been unusually critical of vocational ICT qualifications, in particular Edexcel's ICT qualification DIDA (Diploma in Digital Applications) and OCR's Nationals ICT qualifications. These qualifications, worth up to four A*-C passes, have been identified by Ofsted as being less demanding‟ than ICT GCSE courses and "of doubtful value".

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