Ofsted is allowed to examine work of academy chains

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.
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OFSTED has been given the green light to take a closer look at the work of groups running chains of academies but has not been given new powers

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said the inspectorate should be able to publish information about the performance of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs).

However it has been told it must not give an overall “binary” judgment about whether a Trust is effective or not. The move comes after months of wrangling between Mrs Morgan’s department and Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw over whether the watchdog should be given extra rights to inspect these MATs, or academy chains. MATs are academy sponsors which are responsible for a group of schools. They are becoming an increasingly important part of the country’s school system.

Sir Michael asked last year to be given explicit powers to inspect the head offices of academy chains, in the same way that Ofsted can look at local council children’s services.

But Mrs Morgan, and her predecessor Michael Gove, had argued that Ofsted does not need to be given additional rights to examine the overall management of these groups.

Giving evidence at the Education Select Committee last year she said that inspectors already had sufficient powers to look at the work of chains when it looked at their individual schools. At the time committee chairman, Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart said the decision was bizarre. Now Mrs Morgan has set out new rules for allowing academy trusts to be inspected. She said Ofsted should continue conducting “batch” inspections of academies that are all run by the same Trust. In a letter to Sir Michael she said she would expect Ofsted would meet with staff from the MAT shortly after these inspections have taken place. She said: “They should share and discuss the evidence already gathered and collect and consider further evidence to demonstrate the impact of the MAT’s work with its academies. While the focus must remain on the academies that have been inspected, I agree the dialogue should include consideration of achievement and other relevant data for all of the MAT’s academies.

The Education Secretary adds that she is pleased that Sir Michael agrees that a simple “binary judgment of the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the MAT is inappropriate”. There will be no formal extension of Ofsted’s inspection powers.

Ofsted has previously attempted to overcome the issue of Trust inspections by, where there are concerns about performance, conducting inspections at a number of schools run by the same chain and publishing its findings.

In total, it has issued critical letters to four different academy chains - the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA), Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT) and the E-ACT Trust - after inspecting some of their schools.

Ofsted has hit back at allegations that its inspectors failed to act appropriately on visits to two schools which it declared failing.

In a statement, the school’s watchdog insisted there is no evidence that its officials did not act with “care and sensitivity” while inspecting Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland while those visiting Durham Free School took into account a wide range of evidence when coming to a final judgment.

The rare rebuttal comes after both schools raised concerns this week about the conduct of Ofsted inspectors, claiming that they had asked pupils inappropriate questions on topics such as sexuality and religion.

Ofsted does not usually comment on final inspection reports.

In its statement, the inspectorate said it was aware of a number of “serious” allegations made by Chris Gray, principal of Grindon Hall, about the behaviour of officials and their manner of questioning pupils.

“These allegations, which were not brought to the attention of Her Majesty’s Inspectors during the course of the inspection, are now subject to Ofsted’s formal complaints procedures and will be thoroughly investigated in accordance with Ofsted’s published policy,” it said.