Academy trust invites Ofsted in

AN ACADEMY trust with Leeds schools in its network has invited Ofsted to inspect its operation in the wake of a dispute between the Education Secretary and the chief inspector over the watchdog’s rights to examine groups running chains of schools.

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw
Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw

The Co-operative Academies Trust, which oversees seven academies, said it sees no reason why it should not be subjected to the same inspections as local councils.

It announced it has written to both Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw inviting inspectors to carry out checks of its central functions.

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Frank Norris, director of the Co-operative Academies Trust, said: “I see no good reason why these central functions should not be subject to regular inspection in the same way school improvement functions in local authorities are inspected.”

He added: “Our academies are all doing well and improving, and we believe their success is down to the combined efforts of all in the trust; including the small central team. If Ofsted want to come and inspect the impact of the central function then I certainly wouldn’t stand in their way.”

The academies within the Trust are sponsored by The Co-operative Group. They include three secondary academies in Manchester, Leeds and Stoke-on-Trent and four primary academies in Leeds.

The Trust’s invitation comes less than a week after Ms Morgan confirmed that Ofsted will not be given extra rights to inspect academy chains, despite intense lobbying by the chief inspector.

Sir Michael has repeatedly called for the watchdog to be given explicit powers to inspect the head offices of academy chains, in the same way that they can look at local council children’s services.

But giving evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee, Ms Morgan said she was satisfied that the school’s watchdog has enough powers to inspect these chains, and does not need to be given additional rights to 
examine the overall management.

She said: “I’m satisfied that they can inspect the constituent parts, they can particularly inspect school governance and the support that chains are offering to schools within a chain.

“They can also do batch inspections.”

Ms Morgan said that she had been convinced that the inspectorate needed no extra powers after re-examining recent reports written on individual chains, which had looked at the support they were giving their schools.

In response, Sir Michael insisted again that he does not have the powers to report on the overall performance of an academy chain.

He said in a statement: “I am very clear that I have the powers to inspect the constituent academies of a multi-academy trust (MAT).

“I do not have the powers to inspect and report on the overall effectiveness of the MAT. The Secretary of State for Education has confirmed that she does not intend to introduce legislation to enable this type of inspection and I respect her decision.”

In recent months, Ofsted has attempted to overcome the issue by which 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 letter 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.