English School Academies: A Data Examination

21 Apr

To be an American is to be clueless about cricket. That’s a given, but my cross-cultural obtuseness extends to the British educational system too, whose program I just can’t get with.

Ok, so I’ve just dangled a preposition, but I told you – I’m confused. For one thing, when I hear the word “course”, I’m thinking of a three-credit offering in which you get to sit in the back of the lecture hall and text for 50 minutes. But over here a course is the whole shebang – the three (no, not four) year university stint keyed to one, and only one, subject (no majors here, either).  Colleges here aren’t degree-granting institutions – they’re sort of post-high-school vocational trainers, so if you want a degree you go to university.  The public schools are private, and you don’t proctor exams, you invigilate them. And anyway, they call it “programme”.

You’re getting the idea. And that’s why all this talk nowadays about English school academies and the government’s espousal thereof has me thinking dreamy, intelligible thoughts about baseball instead. But I think it goes something like this: academies are schools that have formally freed themselves from the financial aegis of local governing authorities, rather receiving their monies instead from the national government and as such need not hew to the UK’s national syllabus (you don’t get that in the States either). Still, they’re subject to inspections by the government’s Ofsted agency (we’ve written about them before), and proponents say that by vesting more control in on-site head teachers and snapping the link to the national curriculum the learning experience will be better served. Naysayers contend that the academy idea (to which the government states all schools in England must commit by 2022) will in effect privatize a sector, with large, profit-making providers biting off more than they can chew (for a straightforward resume of the pros and cons see this piece).

Either way, there are spreadsheets out there that will teach you more about the academy experience than any American can, including this workbook enrolled here on the data.gov.uk site:

The Open_Academies sheet (which the Cover_sheet tab generically calls Sheet 1) catalogues, and with impressive recency, the 5,272 academies in force in England (and that identity attaches to the UK country called England, and not Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland). But if you plan on pivot tabling some of the data in it you’ll first need to put some space between header row 6 and the caption text sitting atop it in 5.

Among other things, the book defines what it calls an academy route (column M), its two alternatives denoting a Converter or Sponsored status. The former references schools that in effect opted for academy status on their own, while member of the latter cohort were bidden, by what Wikipedia terms a “government intervention strategy”, to submit themselves to the guiding organizational hand of a government-ratified sponsor (you’ll want to read the notes above the data for some edification here).

And once you’ve attended to the row 5-6 necessity, the data seem more-or-less ready to go. You could start by simply breaking out academy numbers by local authority via a pivot table, and sorting these from Largest to Smallest:

Row Labels: Local Authority

Values: Local Authority

Once sorted, I get this in excerpt:


It’s Essex and Kent, two local authorities close to London, that lead the academy pack. Next maneuver Academy Route into Column Labels and treat the Values to the % of Row Totals makeover (and turn off Grand Totals). You’ll pick up considerable variation in the Converter-Sponsored ratios across the authorities.

You may also want to learn something about average wait time between academies’ application submissions and their approval/opening date, with the understanding that not every school need formally apply (again, check out the notes topping the sheet. Note as well that every opening is dated on the first of a month).  But because many of the schools feature no application date and rather represent that absence with an asterisk, things start to get slightly messy. In fact, however, we’ve broached this issue and one workaround before, and just a few posts ago, with an array formula that averaged paired values, when in fact the values are there to be paired, of course. The problem peculiar to these data is the asterisks in the Application Date field; subtract an asterisk from a value and you get an error message that undermines the formula. But run a find-and-replace along these well-intended lines:


launched in the hopes of substituting nothing (i.e., a numeric value of zero) for the asterisks, and discover that it won’t work – because the asterisk behaves like a wild card at the data, and thus the find-and-replace above will replace every selected cell with nothing. What you want, then, is this:


(Thanks to this thread for the tip.) Here, the tilde orders Excel to treat the asterisks as a character to be searched in its own right, and not as a surrogate for any and all characters.

Once you’ve supplanted the asterisks among the application dates, this array formula awaits:


I get 222.65 days – the average wait time for an academy application to secure its approval. Again, remember that this formula really reprises the expression we detailed in the April 6 post.

And because I suspect the academization process might encourage a touch of school rebranding, here’s another array formula – a considerably simpler one, you’ll be pleased to hear – that counts the number of schools that underwent a name change when they won academy status:


The formula compares pairs of values in the C (Academy Name) with those in the L (Predecessor School Name(s) ) columns. If the entries are disparate, the comparison assigns a 1 to that outcome, whereupon the 1’s are summed, yielding 2599. That is, a bit less than half the schools came away with a new name after having earned academy status.

And now I’m thinking about opening my own academy – The Expat Institute for the Study of Cricket and Other Conundrums.

My branding expert is cool to the idea.

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