Ever wondered how Academies and free schools drive up standards?

It seems that when it comes to producing good or outstanding results, some academies have come up with a neat little trick to improve their image. In February 2013  the Argus reported that “underperforming” sixth form pupils at Portslade Aldridge Community Academy were told not to bother to come back to complete their studies. More recently the London Academy of Excellence claimed to have achieved the best results in Newham (london) with the Guardian reporting that they were the “envy of top schools” with more students going on to Russell Group universities. These claims were challenged by Eddie Playfair of Newham Sixth Form College (Newvic)  who described them as being “a complete untruth”. This didn’t stop the media from reporting the claims made about London Acedemy of Excellence or politicians using it to justify the millions wasted on Gove’s pet vanity project. What was less widely reported by either politicians or the media were claims similar to those made about Portslade Aldridge, LAE had been asking students who were not deemed to be “Russell Group ready” to leave and continue their studies elsewhere. (reported here and here)

This practice of “off rolling” students is not confined to Sixth Form Colleges but is apparently affecting GCSE students who unlike students studying for AS and A-levels are still required to be in school. In February 2014 a Croydon newspapers, the Local Guardian reported that four Academies, were routinely “weeding out” Year 10 students just before their GCSE exams. To their credit Croydon Council have launched an investigation. Of the Academies accued of this practice, two are part of the Harris chain so it might be unsurprising to hear stories circulating in the nearby Royal Borough of Greenwich that the Harris Academy Eltham has adopted the same approach and that they removed a significant number of pupils from their role just prior to the GCSE examinations. It is also alleged that officers in Children’s Services in the Royal Borough are aware of this practice but unlike their counterparts in Croydon they are less willing to do anything about it because Harris Eltham has managed to improve add a little lustre to the Greenwich’s overall rankings. Both the News Shopper and the Council’s own news-sheet Greenwich Time actively promoted the Harris results as being the best in the Borough despite evidence that other schools in the local area achieving better A level and GCSE results. Nearby Corelli College (also an academy) showed outstanding achievement with a 100% pass rate at A-level without resorting to removing pupils from roll or asking them to leave.

It is a sad indictment of the English education system that schools have become so focused on league tables that they are prepared to abandon students who are not on track so that the schools can achieve their place among the starts. Surely there is more to education than this.

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