Ofsted has called for improvements from the School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA) after carrying out focused inspections at six of its primary schools which found that five were less than good.
The SPTA was started by Garforth School, near Leeds, and has quickly grown into one of the country’s biggest academy sponsors. It is now responsible for more than 40 schools which are mainly in Yorkshire.
It is the third chain to be hauled over the coals by Ofsted, with critical letters recently sent to both the Kemnal Academies Trust and the E-ACT Trust - one of England’s biggest academy organisations.
However a statement from the SPTA said that Ofsted’s comments were “largely drawn from a small sample of six schools”, and that it was important to consider the performance across the whole group.
The SPTA highlighted figures which show it has a higher proportion of improving schools than the rest of the country at both primary and secondary level.
Inspectors visited six SPTA academy schools last month and found that four were judged to require improvement. Two, Wybers Wood and Strand Primary in North East Lincolnshire, had improved from inadequate and Whetley Primary, in Bradford and Kingston Park Academy, in Nottinghamshire , had seen no change in their rating.
Of the other two academies inspected, Wainwright Primary in Nottinghamshire was still rated as inadequate and Macauley Primary, in North East Lincolnshire, was judged to be good, up from a previous “satisfactory” judgement under the old ratings system.
Inspectors said they found “key weaknesses” across several of the schools inspected.
These included: teaching that was not consistently good, weaknesses in teaching the brightest pupils and those with special educational needs, pupil attitudes to learning that were not “consistently positive” and school governance that did not have the expertise to challenge senior staff about shortcomings in teaching and learning.
A letter from Ofsted’s regional director for Yorkshire Nick Hudson said: “Five out of the six academies are not providing a good quality of education.
It added: “In one academy, SPTA has failed to tackle significant weaknesses in leadership and management which have declined to inadequate.
“The inspections of SPTA academies since January 2014 show that the percentage of good and better schools is significantly below that seen nationally.
“More positively, it is encouraging that two previously inadequate schools have improved. Also, the percentage of schools showing improvement since the last inspection is higher than found nationally and this gives some cause for optimism.”
The letter did say that the overwhelming view of the school principals questioned was that the academies are well supported by SPTA officers, and that the academies value the work of the regional adviser and senior SPTA staff in challenging their performance data and monitoring the quality of teaching.
It concludes that there is some evidence of school improvement, but that the quality and impact of school governing was “variable”.
There were further concerns about the “depth and accuracy” of SPTA’s analysis of data showing how well pupils were progressing and the contribution this has to improving schools quickly.
“Above all, there are too many underperforming academies which have remained in this position for too long,” the letter warned.
Ofsted are not able to inspect academy chains themselves but are looking to assess their performance by inspecting groups of schools being run by them.
Although five out of the six schools inspected by Ofsted were rated less than good the SPTA said that across the group almost half of its primaries and a third of its secondary academies were good or better.
An SPTA statement said: “Whilst the trust acknowledges the need to improve our schools further for young people, given the inherited Ofsted profile on conversion, it is not surprising that any analysis of the current number of good or better schools in the group would be concerning for Ofsted. However, there is ample evidence which when compared
to national trends and statistics, confirms the board’s belief that SPTA is a highly effective sponsor.”