Results alone wouldn’t decide whether a school becomes an academy, says Ofsted chief. But will RSCs take notice?
Decisions about converting to academy status ‘would not be solely based on data,’ Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools, told an Ofsted meeting in October 2015*.
Andrew Cook, Ofsted Regional Director for the East of England, backed this up. He highlighted the case of a school where results in 2014 pointed to ‘possible issues’ but subsequent inspection confirmed the school’s Good rating.
Presumably this applies not just to the conversion of non-academies into academies but to academies with low results who are sent pre-warning and warning letters despite not being Inadequate. These letters are the first stage in ultimate takeover by another academy trust.
Despite Ofsted’s assurance, the definition of a ‘coasting’ school needing possible intervention will likely be decided solely by data over a three year period. Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, speaking in November 2015 when the proposed definition of ‘coasting’ was known, said there were still “substantial areas of concern”.
He said he was ‘reassured’ that schools defined as coasting should be allowed to improve without intervention if they showed they could do so. However, he remained concerned that judgements about a school’s capacity to improve were ‘at the discretion’ of the local Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC). He called for more transparency and consistency.
His concerns have since been echoed by the Education Select Committee in its report into the role of RSCs. MPs described the RSC system as confusing, inconsistent, opaque and unclear.
And there’s already evidence that RSCs are taking decisions based solely on data:
- The RSC for East Midlands and Humber sent an ‘education advisor’ to Oasis Academy Wintringham because of low results. This was despite the academy taking effective action to address problems highlighted when the academy was judged Requires Improvement.
- The RSC for the South East sent warning letters to seven academies in Norfolk and Suffolk about their results despite none being Inadequate. Four were actually Good.
- The RSC for Yorkshire said results in Leeds primary schools were ‘weak’ and ‘inexcusable’ when results in Leeds were 76% - just 2% below the national average (78%) in 2014. In 2015, results for Leeds primary schools rose to 78% - an improvement on 2014 but still 2% below the 2015 national average (80%). However, the percentage of pupils making expected progress in Leeds in 2015 was 1% above the national averages for reading, writing and maths. Perhaps the Yorkshire RSC should withdraw his comments about Leeds primary schools.
The incidents above raise questions about the relative responsibilities of Ofsted and RSCs. It’s encouraging Ofsted has said decisions about academy conversion (and presumably shifting academies from one trust to another) would not be made solely on results. But this is weakened when RSCs appear to judge schools by results alone and when it is RSCs, not Ofsted, who will make decisions about whether schools can improve by their own efforts before academy conversion is imposed.