Chief inspector raises concerns about performance of multi-academy trusts

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Serious questions have been raised about the government’s ambition to make every school an academy after yet further criticism of provision within multi-academy trusts (MATs).

Ofsted has now published the outcomes of focused inspections of eight different MATs during the last 12 months and the findings from seven of these inspections have worried chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.

In a letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan this week, Sir Michael writes: “The published letters to seven MATs highlighted serious weaknesses that were contributing to poor progress and outcomes for too many pupils. Despite having operated for a number of years, many of the trusts manifested the same weaknesses as the worst performing local authorities and offered the same excuses. Indeed, one chief executive blamed parents for pupils’ poor attendance affecting pupils’ performance.

“There has been much criticism in the past of local authorities failing to take swift action with struggling schools. Given the impetus of the academies programme to bring about rapid improvement, it is of great concern that we are not seeing this in these seven MATs and that, in some cases, we have even seen decline.”

Prime minister David Cameron last year said he wanted every school to become an academy and that he wants to “make local authorities running schools a thing of the past”.

In his letter, Sir Michael says he supports the government’s ambition to create a more “diverse and autonomous school system” and emphasises that academisation can lead to rapid improvements for schools.

He says that some MATs have made “remarkable progress in some of the toughest areas”.

However, he raises a number of concerns that he says inspectors uncovered during the seven focused inspections, including:

  • Poor progress and attainment, particularly at key stage 4.
  • Leaders not doing enough to improve attendance or behaviour.
  • Insufficient scrutiny of the impact of teaching on pupils’ progress.
  • A lack of strategic oversight by the trust of all academies.
  • Insufficient challenge from governors and trustees.

He said that progress and performance of disadvantaged pupils in some of the MATs inspected was concerning, given that the original goal of the academies movement was focused on this issue.

The concerns have been revealed as Parliament’s Education Select Committee this week launched an inquiry into the “performance, accountability, and governance” of MATs. Chairman Neil Carmichael MP has issued a call for evidence.

He said: “MATs play a substantial role in today’s education system but with relatively little scrutiny. We want to examine the role and governance of MATs and ensure we have a system which ensures these academy chains deliver excellent performance while being properly held to account.”

Elsewhere in his letter to Ms Morgan, Sir Michael questions the high levels of pay for chief executives in some of the MATs, including one who is paid £225,000.

He adds: “This poor use of public money is compounded by some trusts holding very large cash reserves that are not being spent on raising standards.

“For example, at the end of August 2015, these seven trusts had total cash in the bank of
£111 million. Furthermore, some of these trusts are spending money on expensive consultants or advisers to compensate for deficits in leadership. Put together, these seven trusts spent at least £8.5 million on education consultancy in 2014/15 alone.”

Finally, he raises concerns about the large geographic areas covered by some of the MATs: “Given the lack of leadership capacity and the ineffective monitoring of individual academies in these trusts, it is surprising that some continue to operate over such wide geographical areas,” he adds.

In conclusion, Sir Michael tells Ms Morgan: “If we are to improve national standards in an increasingly autonomous system, much more needs to be done to reduce the variation in standards between the best and the worst academy trusts.”

Both the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said this week that Ofsted’s inspections show academies are no better at raising standards than other schools.

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Once again we see evidence confirming academy conversion is not the magic bullet to improving education standards the government makes it out to be. Although overwhelming evidence clearly shows academies are no better at raising standards than any other school, the government remains hell-bent on continuing to force all schools to become an academy.

“The government should be putting more effort and the precious little funding it has into the things that really do raise school standards – effective CPD for teachers, and eliminating child poverty to lessen the barriers to learning.”

Her NUT counterpart, Christine Blower, added: “The government needs to change tack and admit that its obsession with structural changes to schools has failed. Where schools need support to improve, this is best done at a local level by those who understand a school’s context. Removing schools from the support offered by the local authority is evidently not the best way forward.”

The seven MATs Sir Michael refers to are SPTA, E-Act, AET, Wakefield City Academies, CfBT Multi-Academy Trust, Collaborative Academies Trust, and Oasis Learning Multi-Academy Trust.

The eighth inspected MAT was the Education Fellowship, but this is not included within Sir Michael’s comments as Ofsted “did not have major concerns with its operations”.

  • For details of the Education Select Committee’s inquiry, including its call for evidence (deadline April 25), visit http://bit.ly/1piLnZf


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