Heads and teachers’ leaders have welcomed a report by MPs calling on Ofsted to inspect academy chains and for greater collaboration between schools.
The investigation by the all-party House of Commons Education Select Committee warns that with half of all secondary schools now academies, there is a danger of them working in isolation rather than in collaboration with others to raise standards. The committee’s report finds that currently there is little incentive for schools to work together.
It also urges for Ofsted to be allowed to inspect academy chains in a similar way to which it inspects local authorities.
Elsewhere, the committee argues that there should be a mechanism to allow outstanding schools to leave academy chains, even without the approval of the organisation running the chain. The MPs also raise concerns that some academies are failing to work with struggling schools in their localities.
Reacting to the report, teachers pointed out this week that some academy chains control more schools than some small local authorities and must be subject to inspection.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “The chains charge their schools fees for central services, such as HR and IT systems. They are also responsible for the quality of teaching and learning in their schools.
“Parents need to know that their children’s school is being properly supported to raise standards of teaching and learning, and the public needs to know that academy chains are not charging high prices for poor services.”
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, added that “no provider of public education should be considered too big to challenge”.
She said: “The public has a right to expect rigorous public scrutiny. The best way to secure public trust and confidence is by ensuring there is a truly independent inspection body that operates in the public interest.”
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, agreed that chains must be inspected.
He added: “It is not enough to inspect an individual school in a chain. The chain itself is publicly funded, has a great deal of autonomy and therefore it should be held to account to demonstrate its impact on standards. These accountability measures could also be used to identify and spread best practice among other partnerships.”
Elsewhere, the MPs’ report calls for government to widen its funding for collaboration beyond academy sponsorship “to assist other types of partnership”.
They also want to see ministers “set out clearly the role of local authorities in a school-led improvement system”.
On the issue of collaboration, Mr Lightman stressed that schools must be given the capacity to look beyond their gates.
He continued: “A self-improving system needs an element of co-ordination and there is a need for more incentives to look beyond the school gate. However, schools can only take on wider system leadership responsibilities if they have the capacity to do so.”
Committee chairman Graham Stuart said: “We support moves to give schools more freedom to innovate but we argue that the creation of a self-improving system needs a degree of co-ordination and strong incentives to encourage schools to look beyond their own school gate. Otherwise there is a danger that many schools will operate in isolation rather than in co-operation.
“Academy chains are generally performing well but raise particular questions and need specific solutions. We recommend that it should be made clear how academies can leave chains either with or without mutual consent.
“We also call for the Department for Education to monitor more effectively the extent to which convertor academies meet the expectation that they should support other schools.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Ofsted already inspects all school and academy performance, while the Department for Education examines the performance of chains. Where academies are underperforming, we take action, which can involve issuing a pre-warning notice and ultimately changing the sponsor if there is no improvement.”
The report, School Partnerships and Cooperation, can be downloaded at www.parliament.uk/education-committee