Pressure mounts to allow inspection of academy chains

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Michael Gove’s “reluctance” to allow Ofsted to inspect academy chains is unsurprising given the inspectorate’s damning report into schools within the E-ACT Multi-Academy Trust, it was said this week.

It comes after Ofsted published the outcomes of a series of inspections at 16 E-ACT academies, concluding that “an overwhelming proportion of pupils (are) not receiving a good education”. Eleven of the academies were failing to provide a “good” education, including five judged to require “special measures”. Four were “good” and one “outstanding”.

An Ofsted statement said: “Evidence from the inspections indicates that intervention and support provided by E-ACT was ineffective overall. For those academies judged to require ‘special measures’, the Trust failed to take effective action to improve performance.”

E-ACT was selected for the inspections because of concerns about overall performance in its academies, including “poor” key stage 4 attainment. CEO of E-ACT David Moran acknowledged last week that its performance “must improve” and that standards in some of its academies are “not acceptable”.

The Department for Education, meanwhile, said it has already agreed that four E-ACT schools will be transferred to new trusts. It means the chain will reduce to 24 schools.

It comes at a time when pressure is mounting for Ofsted to be allowed to inspect academy chains in the same way that it inspects entire local authorities. Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has said he wants the same principle to apply to academies and in November, the Education Select Committee also called for Ofsted to be allowed to inspect academy chains, warning that with half of all secondaries now academies there was a danger of them working in isolation. 

However, answering a question in the House of Commons last week, education secretary Michael Gove maintained that “Ofsted already inspects academy chains”, giving the inspection of 16 E-ACT schools as an example.

However, critics have said that inspecting individual academies within a chain is not comparable to Ofsted’s focused local authority inspections.

Martin Freedman, from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, is not surprised that Mr Gove has not allowed Ofsted to carry out chain inspections. He said:  “Ofsted’s report shines a spotlight onto the failures in E-ACT’s chain of academies which are tragic for the children and teachers in those schools. It is little wonder Michael Gove is reluctant to let Ofsted inspect other academy chains.

“We are astonished that the government did not pick up concerns over E-ACT’s performance earlier, and that the chain was allowed to expand and permitted to sponsor free schools as well. The government’s assertion that it has a rigorous process for allocating schools to sponsors is not credible.”

Michael Cladingbowl, national director of schools at Ofsted, said: “The outcomes of these inspections indicate that E-ACT has not been effective in improving its academies. While it is reassuring that some principals of individual academies report recent improvements to the Trust’s leadership, inspectors have yet to see this impacting on standards. 

“Ofsted is determined to shine a light wherever we have concerns about the quality of education and, where necessary, we will continue to monitor the individual schools within the Trust to ensure progress is being made.”

Mr Moran added: “Over the past two terms we have begun root and branch reforms under new leadership, with some key successes. Crucially, going forward, we are focusing our resources and support where we are best placed to make a difference. This will include support on the ground, in the classroom and the introduction of an information-sharing system so that the data from each of our academies is clear and readily available to all.”


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