Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Hackney academies: too good to be...?

A number of theories have been offered up to explain the success of Hackney in the latest GCSE league tables. The BBC suggests an influx of aspirational immigrants as well as high levels of graduates in the borough.

This year Hackney is the most improved education authority in the country this year which might have something to do with 5 out of 12 secondary schools in the borough being listed as academies.

Unlike other schools these are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act so no one has a right to know how the improved results of academies were achieved.

So what? Well back in 2003 Tower Hamlets held the title of most improved education authority. At its most improved school every pupil had to take a science GNVQ which was the equivalent to 4 a-c GCSEs. As one of the borough's less 'successful' headteachers pointed out - most of those pupils credited with 5 A-C GCSEs had actually only taken one.

Is something similar going on in Hackney? This report (The secrets of Academies' success) by Civitas suggests that it probably is.

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 to take part in its research, 40 responded, only 16 gave a breakdown of their results.

The most worrying claim made by Civitas is that academies are not acting in the interest of their students when they decide which exams they will be taking but rather to bolster the overall grades of the institution.

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."

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