Quantity over quality: Ofsted boss hits at empire-building academy chains

The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw
The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw
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OFSTED BOSS Sir Michael Wilshaw has told MPs some academy trusts have grown too quickly and adopted a “pile ‘em high” attitude towards taking on more schools.

The chief inspector of schools told the Education Select Committee hearing that some academy chains had been empire building rather than focusing on having the capacity to raise standards.

Sir Michael and Sir David Carter, the national schools commissioner responsible for decision making over academies appeared before MPs this morning for the first session in an inquiry about multi academy trusts (MATs).

Sir Michael had previously written to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to highlight failings inspectors had found at some schools inside seven large MATs.

This included School Partnership Trusts Academies , the biggest academy chain in Yorkshire which runs more than 40 schools, Wakefield City Academies Trust and Oasis which sponsors several schools in the region.

Ofsted is not allowed to give inspection judgments on MATs. However it has been carrying out batch inspections of schools within academy trusts which were causing concern and then producing its findings in a letter to the heads of these trusts.

Although it does not give an inspection judgement Sir Michael described the seven MATS inspected as “failing” at the MPs inquiry today.

He suggested they were not monitoring or intervening effectively enough at some of their schools.

He said:”In the seven trusts that we failed it was quite clear to inspectors that they didn’t know what was going on, they weren’t stepping in quickly enough. In other words evaluation wasn’t good.” He also questioned how money was being spent in these MATs highlighting £110m across the seven organisations which was not being spent on children.

The committee’s chairman Neil Carmichael MP said that the Oasis academy trust had questioned Ofsted’s ability to assess the work of MATs but Sir Michael dismissed this as “nonsense.”

Sir David Carter said Ofsted’s current system of carrying out batch inspections of schools withing MATs was working but he said that only seven of the 973 MATs across the country had been looked at by Ofsted so far. He said that Ofsted looking at some of the MATS that were performing strongly would give a “more balanced perspective.”

Sir David is responsible for overseeing the system of regional schools commissioner who make decisions about schools becoming academies or being rebrokered between different academy trusts.

The Government has the ambition for all state schools to become academies which are run outside of local councils as either part of a trust or as a standalone school.

Sir David said that more MATs would be needed in future. He said converting all the existing maintaining schools into the current number of academy trusts “did not sound sensible.”

However he also assured MPs that MATs would not be allowed to grow without a proven track record.

He said that a “health check” was being developed which would assess a MAT’s abiliity to take on more schools.

He has previously said that around 1,000 new MATs would need to be created with smaller groups having to grow to take on more schools.

Sr David told the committee that the vast majority of MATS were small. He said 85 per cent of these academy sponsors had six or less schools and there were only ten trusts across the country with more than 30 schools.