MP vows to question Morgan again over Ofsted inspecting academy chains

Photo:  Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
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SELECT committee chairman Graham Stuart has vowed to question Education Secretary Nicky Morgan again this week over what he called an “absurd” decision not to give Ofsted powers to able to inspect academy chains.

The Conservative Beverley and Holderness MP has asked Ofsted whether they are happy with an answer Mrs Morgan gave to his committee last week in which she said the inspection watchdog already has sufficient powers to be able to look at academy sponsors.

Ofsted can inspect local councils to see how they support schools in their area but cannot carry out similar visits to academy chains - which are responsible for an increasing number of the country’s schools. The chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw has previously said he believes Ofsted should be able to carry out inspections of academy chains.

However at an education select committee hearing Mrs Morgan told MPs she had looked at the issue and believed Ofsted already had the ability to look at academy chains when they inspected individual academies. Academy chains are a relatively new development in education with some of the larger groups taking over responsibility for the running of dozens of state schools each.

Ofsted has already carried out batch inspections looking at groups of schools in particular academy chains where there are concerns.

And Mrs Morgan said inspectors can also ask to meet people from academy chains when they visit their schools.

She added: “I’m not entirely sure that visiting the head office is actually going to yield more than going and talking to the people who are actually running the chains.”

Mr Stuart told The Yorkshire Post that he had asked for Ofsted to respond to this answer and would question Mrs Morgan again when she appeared before the committee again on Wednesday.

During last week’s session Mr Stuart repeatedly criticised the Government’s position.

He said: “Sir Michael Wilshaw has been telling this committee for as long as I can remember and this committee has agreed that it is absurd that the control centre of in some cases large numbers of schools is somehow exempt apart from by going to the school you can ask some questions about governance. Its absurd. It would be like trying to judge an army by only talking to the people on the frontline and not speaking to the general in charge.” He added: “A trust can be very much command and control and if you don’t go and look at the control centre you are struggling to understand what is really happening and what the patterns are behind the schools.”

The issue of whether Ofsted should be able to inspect academy chains was raised by Bradford East MP David Ward during a hearing on extremism in schools.

Mrs Morgan was giving evidence following Ofsted revealing that five Birmingham schools declared failing in the wake of the alleged “Trojan Horse” takeover plot by Muslims have still not improved, Ofsted has warned.“Very little action” has been taken to address the serious concerns raised about each school’s performance, amid slow progress in appointing new governors and senior leaders, the watchdog said.

Mr Stuart said that the events in Birmingham highlighted the need to be able to inspect not only a school but the trust or sponsor behind it. He said: “You need to recognise where the ethos is being set you need to see who is determining the music that’s played.” Ofsted declined to comment on Mrs Morgan’s evidence to the select committee.