The Politics of Academy Conversion Amongst English Schools

The ‘academization‘ of the English schooling system has been much-remarked, but there has been relatively little systematic work studying the politics of this process. In a new paper, forthcoming at Public Administration, I document both the magnitude of the phenomenon of academy conversion and some intriguing features of its underlying politics.

On the magnitude of the change that is underway, the figures are rather stark. Using data from January 2013, one third of secondary schools had converted by only the third year of the push by Michael Gove and the coalition government to foster this change.

I use data from an FoI request (provided by The Guardian) regarding which schools expressed an interest in converting to academy status to show that there is a marked political gradient to these expressions of interest. This can be seen clearly in a raw bivariate correlation (below) of the (binned) Conservative-minus-Labour vote share of Westminster constituencies in which schools are located and the proportion of them that expressed interest in conversion. Schools in more strongly Conservative constituencies are much more likely to be interested in converting. (The relationship also easily survives in multivariate analysis.)

Proportion of schools expressing an interest in converting to academy status (July 2010), by rel- ative Conservative constituency-level electoral strength in 2010

Perhaps more importantly, these expressions of interest clearly drove the same pattern in actual conversions to academy status, as well.

Proportion of schools converting to academy status (January 2013), by relative Conservative constituency-level electoral strength in 2010

There is strong evidence of a political effect from the application side, but I find no discernible political effects of the DfE decisions regarding whether to authorize conversions. (Full details in the paper.)

Meanwhile, I do find evidence that schools that find themselves in more strongly Conservative-voting constituencies but under a Labour-controlled LEA are particularly likely to convert. Conversely, schools in more strongly Labour-voting constituencies and under a Labour-controlled LEA are less likely to convert. It appears that schools may be using academy conversion as a way of avoiding “governance” from above that comes with a partisan flavor that does not fit with the more local political environment.

Predicted probability (based on )of schools (rated ‘Good’ by OFSTED) expressing interest in Academy conversion as a function of the Conservative–Labour vote share, conditional on being in a Labour-controlled LEA or not. 90% confidence intervals shown in transparent colours. Other predictors held at their sample means.

For much more detail, see the pre-publication draft of “Partisan Governance and Policy Implementation: The Politics of Academy Conversion Amongst English Schools“.

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