MPs' inquiry into standards and governance of academy chains is launched

A PARLIAMENTARY inquiry has been launched today into the performance, accountability and governance of multi-academy trusts, following a strong warning about standards by Ofsted's chief inspector.

Sir Michael Wilshaw wrote to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan last week highlighting failings found in schools inside seven of the country’s biggest academy chains - including the largest trust operating in Yorkshire , the School Partnership Trust Academies.

The Department for Education said Ofsted’s findings were focused on the academy trusts causing the most concern and were a “partial and skewed” picture which did not reflect the success of the multi-academy trust (MAT) model as a whole.

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Now the Education Select Committee has announced that it is to launch an inquiry into MATs.

MATs, organisations which run groups of state schools are becoming an increasingly important part of the education system as more schools become academies.

Education Select Committee chairman Neil Carmichael MP said: “Multi-academy trusts play a substantial role in today’s education system but with relatively little scrutiny. The Government’s direction of travel towards a fully academised system means we are likely to see more MATs in the future.

“Some MATs and academies deliver great results for their pupils but it’s important that all academies and MATS meet the highest educational standards. We want to examine the role and governance of MATs and ensure we have a system which ensures these academy chains deliver excellent performance while being properly held to account.”

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Many academy trusts operate a single school, but others are responsible for a chain of schools. The Department for Education uses the term ‘academy chain’ to describe groups of three or more schools.

The MP’s inquiry will look into the following areas:

• The role of MATs in the context of other intermediate structures operating between Whitehall and individual schools, including Regional Schools Commissioners;

• The current MATs landscape, including in terms of the number, size, and geographical coverage of MATs;

• The balance of decision-making at the individual school level and at the chain level, and the appropriateness of formal governance structures employed;

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• How the expansion of MATs should be monitored and managed;

• The characteristics of high-performing MATs; and

• How the performance of MATs should be assessed.

Ofsted cannot inspect academy chains or given them a grading. However in recent years the inspection watchdog has carried out focused inspection of groups of schools at the same academy chain.

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Ofsted has then written to the academy trusts with overall conclusions. Last week Ofsted wrote to SPTA bosses about a series of inspections at their schools. It found that the impact of the SPTA’s work in bringing about improvement where it is most needed had been too slow.

Ofsted also said the SPTA was having a greater impact at its primaries school than at secondary.

The SPTA, which runs 46 schools, mainly in Yorkshire, said it acknowledged Ofsted’s concern about under-performance in some of its secondary academies.

Last week it was also announced that SPTA would be working in partnership with another major Yorkshire academy chain: Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT). This came as OGAT’s deputy chief executive Paul Tarn was appointed as the SPTA’s new chief executive.

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OGAT is rated as a strong performing academy sponsor by the Government and has been given new funding to take on more schools. In contrast SPTA has been warned about standards at around a third of its schools by the Government. However OGAT said there were no plans for it to take on any SPTA schools as part of the partnership.

A statement added: “We were delighted for Paul Tarn when he secured the position of chief executive of the SPTA. Paul has been a loyal servant of OGAT for many years and we know he has many great strengths that he will bring to this role; particularly his desire to see all children achieve their full potential.

“OGAT has spent much of the last 18 months demonstrating our school improvement model to multi-academy trusts (MAT) across the country in each Regional Schools’ Commissioner’s region. We have always been keen to help support the wider system when possible. We now hope to be able to share best practice and professional development opportunities between the SPTA and ourselves, for the benefit of all of our students.

“We, of course, wish Paul all the very best in his new role”.

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