This year's GCSE results revealed a promising performance from city academies. Are they beginning to work? This is the theme of my latest article for the Guardian's CiF website.
A brief analysis of this year's GCSE results indicates that the government's new city academies are likely to show a faster rate of improvement than other schools nationally.
It would appear that in academies the proportion of pupils gaining 5 or more A*-C grades has increased by an average of 7% and by 5% when English and mathematics are included. Although the national benchmarks for 2007 will not be available until league tables are published in January 2008 it is unlikely that the rate of increase will be much above the 2.1% figure for last year (0.9% including English and mathematics).
Despite this it seems that the idea of creating an additional 400 academies - backed by Gordon Brown - is still too much for many Labour party members and supporters (including many MPs). The common argument against academies is that once established they might well end up sucking resources from other local comprehensive schools. But will they?
As long as academies remain in the depressed hearts of the old towns and cities and, perhaps most importantly of all, maintain their all-ability intake, I do not think that Labour party members should worry too much. The real challenge for party members and supporters is how to make education in the inner city both transformational and inspirational. It is just possible that academies may provide a means of local communities meeting these challenges.
What many people overlook is that in the setting up of so many of these new academies in areas of significant social and economic deprivation, the government has rediscovered what many used to call "compensating measures". Yet should we not just give existing academies a chance? In the short term the answer has to be a qualified "yes". There are, after all, some encouraging indicators. Ofsted has stated that academies are having "remarkable" effects but there is more work to do to ensure that they all successful.
A PWC report said that academies had largely won the support of pupils and parents but still faced problems, including widespread bullying and inappropriate buildings. The 2007 GCSE results show several academies doubling the number of pupils achieving 5 or more A*-Cs or better at GCSE. For example the Trinity Academy in Doncaster this year increased the proportion achieving five good GCSEs from 30% last year to 63%. The truth is that for communities trapped in a cycle of educational failure and under achievement the academy programme can offer new energy, new purpose and new opportunities for young people who deserve better.
However it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that such ambitious and expensive programmes benefit the communities that they are intended for and do not become the preserves of the middle classes.