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Academies lead way by offering vocational courses – new report.

GCSE equivalents are helping schools with academy status to fare better than those maintained by local authorities, says new report published by the National Foundation for Education Research.

The report found that schools with academy status got higher average GCSE point scores and a larger proportion of pupils meeting the government’s GCSE benchmark pass than local authority maintained schools. It was also noted that academy based pupils made more rapid progress between key stage two and key stage four than those at maintained schools.

However, it has been suggested that the use of vocational and non-traditional subjects, such as NVQs or foundation diplomas, explains why academy schools are seen to outperform their counterparts, as when the report compared schools by only focussing on GCSE examinations there was no difference between results, and in some circumstances academies were seen to underperform in comparison.

Whilst the report concluded that academies that have been open for more than two years appear to perform well in GCSE-equivalent examinations, David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, noted that the report suggested that conversion to academy status did not necessarily bring about improvement after GCSE equivalent results were discounted.

However, a Department for Education spokesman countered Simmonds remarks, stating that “The LGA is wrong; as their own report acknowledges, academies outperform local authority schools. Thousands of brilliant heads and teachers are taking advantage of the freedoms offered by academy status to drive improvement”.

The report also notes that the success of academies could be due to other features, such as the quality of teaching or the effectiveness of school leadership, both of which could not be measured by their research.