Did school praised by former schools minister receive prior notice of Ofsted inspection? And why did an academy in the same Trust tell inspectors it had become a maths hub despite being in special measures?

Janet Downs's picture
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‘Whistleblowers say schools in Norfolk overseen by Rachel de Souza were able to prepare for visits days or weeks in advance’

Warwick Mansell and Daniel Boffey, Observer, 17 August 2014

One of these schools was Great Yarmouth Primary Academy (GYPA), an Inspiration Trust school. Dame Rachel de Souza, a ‘super head’ who accompanied former schools minister Liz Truss on her visit to Shanghai earlier this year is the Trust’s CEO. It is sponsored by Tory donor Theodore Agnew who sits on the Department for Education's Academies Board which links schools with potential sponsors.

GYPA was given national publicity when Truss described it as a ‘brilliant example’ after it received a Good Ofsted judgement. It’s unclear why Truss focussed on this one school when other primary schools with reports published at the same time had done as well or better. A cynic might say it was part of the academy spin programme.

The Observer claims to have seen evidence which appears to show that Ormiston Victory, where de Souza was executive principal when it was last inspected in May 2013, and Thetford Academy, an Inspiration Trust school, also received advance notice of an Ofsted visit. Ormiston Victory, whose 2013 GCSE cohort contained 41% previously high-attaining pupils and only 11% previously low attainers, was judged Outstanding.

The monitoring visit to Thetford Academy, taken over by Inspiration Trust in September 2013 after an earlier Inadequate judgement, took place in July 2014. Inspectors said the academy is making reasonable progress towards removing special measures and noted the school had won a bid to become a maths hub. This is odd because the 32 maths hubs, backed by the DfE to the tune of £11m, are supposed to be led by 'outstanding' institutions. It turns out Thetford Academy isn't one of the maths hubs named by the DfE. The contract with the accompanying extra resources was awarded to Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form Free School, an Inspiration Trust academy which hasn't yet been inspected, and Kesgrave High School, Ipswich, which is not part of Inspiration Trust, and was judged Good, not Outstanding, in September 2013.

Ofsted said inspection schedules were ‘tightly controlled’. De Souza is an associate Ofsted inspector but Ofsted said associate inspectors have no access to the schedules. Ofsted had received no complaints about the three inspections but would investigate ‘in line with’ their complaints procedure if ‘relevant information’ was sent to them.

Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, will request an urgent investigation into these allegations in a speech to be made tomorrow, says the Observer. Perhaps he also ought to ask the DfE to explain how a bid for a maths hub was won by a school which isn't outstanding when lead institutes are supposed to be outstanding together with another which has only existed for one year and hasn't been inspected.

*The primary schools ignored by Liz Truss were recognised in this thread.

Inspection Reports are available on Ofsted's website.
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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 20/08/2014 - 06:48

UPDATE: Ofsted is going to investigate the allegations that the three academies received advance warning. This investigation should also find out why an Ofsted monitoring report said Thetford Academy had become a Maths Hub when it hadn't. It might, of course, just be a misunderstanding - Thetford Academy is in the same trust, Inspiration Trust, as the sixth-form free school (not yet inspected) that won the bid alongside another school to run a Maths Hub. But the monitoring report reads as if Thetford Academy had become a centre of good practice while still in special measures.

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