Leading article: Academies are proving their worth

Click to follow

The National Foundation for Educational Research has conducted research into whether the Government's flagship new academies have avoided the temptation to choose their pupils through covert selection. And it has given the academies a clean bill of health. That is good news. It has been one of the main complaints from opponents of the scheme that it will lead to a two-tier education system with academies selecting the brightest children from the many who apply for places.

The NFER research, published last week, appears to show that the opposite is in fact the case - that the academies are selecting more than their share of pupils on free school meals in the neighbourhoods in which they have been set up. They are also accepting a smaller percentage of pupils who have reached the required standard in English and maths tests for 11-year-olds than in the communities they serve. This can be explained by the fact the academies are replacing failing schools that would have had a similar intake. But it does show that the principals of the academies have avoided any attempt to raise standards through trying to skew their intake.

This news, together with GCSE and key stage three national curriculum test results, show the academies are improving at a faster rate than the rest of the sector. So the last two months can be said to have been good for the academies. But the history of many government initiatives - such as the literacy hour and daily maths lessons in primary schools - show that after an initial spurt progress tends to tail off.

Nevertheless, the picture is more encouraging for academies than at this time last year. The NFER research did show, however, concern that voluntary-aided mainly church schools still may be using methods of selection. Figures here show the opposite of what is happening at the academies. Church schools are taking far fewer pupils on free school meals and a higher proportion of youngsters who have reached the required standards in tests than one might expect them to. The new tougher code of conduct on admissions - under which interviews with parents before admission are banned and exclusive deals to provide school uniforms outlawed - cannot come into force soon enough.