OfSTED and DfES - Partners in Spin?

Roger Titcombe's picture
I obtained the information in this post from Freedom of Information requests to Ofsted.

In the early years of the Academies Programme, Ofsted produced a Protocol (revised November 2004 and March 2006) for working with a DfES team referred to as the ‘Academies Division’ (AD).

According to the Protocol, OfSTED was informed as soon as a new academy was proposed. OfSTED then appointed a lead inspector for the designated predecessor school, who was fully aware of the planned transition to academy status. The lead inspector reported directly to the DfES Academies Division to discuss progress or concerns about the school. The timings of inspection visits to the school were discussed with the Academies Division lead advisor. Ofsted was given a summary of progress with the Academy proposal prior to each subsequent inspection of the school designated to be replaced.

The timing of the first Ofsted inspection of a new Academy was agreed in advance in consultation with the Academies Division. Ofsted agreed with the Academies Division that all such inspections would be led by an HMI from a specially constituted group. The Protocol explains that a small team of HMI should be involved because of, “the new and different nature of Academies.” The justification for this was, “the need to ensure that, a consistent approach is adopted”.

There were 19 full inspections of Academies between December 2004 and May 2007. These were all carried out under the leadership of eight HMI. With one exception, all of these lead HMI were also members of the inspection teams of other academies.

The Ofsted website at that time contained the following statement.

“We do not report to government ministers but directly to Parliament (and to the Lord Chancellor about children and family courts administration). This independence means you can rely on us for impartial information.”

West London Academy was inspected in September 2006. The report is still on the OfSTED website under the 'Alec Reed Academy', its new name. The 2006 GCSE/GNVQ examination results would have been available to the inspection team. These show that just 14% of pupils were entered for Double Award science with only 9% obtaining an A*-C pass. Double Award science was the course recommended by DfES for all pupils. A further 77% were entered for single award science but only 16% achieved A*-C. Just 6% gained an A*-C in history and only 2% in geography. In European languages just one pupil obtained an A*-C in French and three pupils in German. Only 25% of pupils gained five A*-Cs including English and maths.

The only comment in the inspection report related to these results was, “The secondary phase curriculum is satisfactory". The judgements on the sixth form were however damning. The curriculum provision was graded as inadequate, lacking breadth and balance, and offering only a limited range of courses. The inspectors did not made the obvious link between the poverty of provision for mainstream academic subjects at KS4 and the ability of the school to provide a full range of opportunities in the sixth form.

At that time OfSTED reports contained a letter to pupils. This included the following statements.

We were thrilled to see the huge improvements since our first HMI visit over a year ago.
Your GCSE results were really good.
The principal, the headteacher and the academy leadership team have worked really hard and it’s(sic) paying off.
Your academy is remarkable.
We hope that your academy, with your help, just keeps getting better and better.

The Academy was further inspected in December 2007 and January 2010. The latest inspection was carried out on 25 April 2013. The summary conclusions were as follows.

Overall effectiveness Requires improvement 3
Achievement of pupils Requires improvement 3
Quality of teaching Requires improvement 3
Behaviour and safety of pupils Requires improvement 3
Leadership and management Requires improvement 3

West London was one of the first Academies. It benefitted from a new, vastly expensive Rogers building. There appear to have been some significant leadership changes as well as the change of name since it opened.

I am not making any comment about the quality of the Academy. Readers can make their own judgement about the role of OfSTED in the creation and promotion of Academies, and how this may have affected media coverage of these schools.

This is the 2004 version of the OfSTED/DfES Protocol.


OFSTED involvement in the Academies policy

1. Academies Division (AD) will seek advice from OFSTED – through the OFSTED Academy lead HMI - on initial proposals for an Academy prior to moving into the Feasibility phase.

2. AD will inform OFSTED prior to submitting to Ministers a proposal to enter into a funding agreement to enter the Implementation phase and to establish an Academy.

3. AD will keep OFSTED informed of progress, and provide OFSTED with the opportunity to contribute to the development of the Academies policy, through termly meetings between OFSTED and AD.
OFSTED involvement with Academies and their predecessor schools.

4. OFSTED monitoring letters of visits to low attaining secondary schools in receipt of Leadership Incentive Grant (LIG), Special Measures (SM) and any other OfSTED visits to schools will be copied to the AD OFSTED contact point who will arrange for them to be forwarded to relevant AD colleagues.

Predecessor schools.

5. When they enter Feasibility phase, each Academy predecessor school will have a named AD lead Adviser. OFSTED will ensure that the lead monitoring HMI (for those schools which are subject to SM) or the HMI who visits the school (under the arrangements for LIG schools, if it is not subject to SM) are aware of the school’s transition to Academy status. The OFSTED lead Academy HMI will discuss progress or concerns about the school with the AD lead adviser to ensure a coordinated approach with the predecessor school during the period leading up to opening as an Academy. This will take place at termly AD/OFSTED meetings.

7. All of the predecessor schools will receive a visit during the Academy’s Implementation phase The timing of this visit will be discussed at the termly AD/OFSTED meetings and will usually be scheduled for the term following the start of the Implementation phase. However, if the school has recently been inspected by OFSTED or if there are other circumstances where OFSTED and AD agree that it would be of benefit for a visit to take place at a different point, including during the Feasibility phase, then alternative arrangements may be agreed at the termly meetings.

8. The AD Adviser lead will send OFSTED a short summary of progress with the Academy proposal prior to HMI’s monitoring visit.

9. HMI will report any concerns raised by their findings during visits. If the concerns are significant or if there are other circumstances which make such a course of action appropriate, HMI reserve the right the right to make a return visit. If HMI judge that the school is failing to provide an acceptable standard of education and requires special measures, HMI have a duty to publish a report which states this.

Newly opened Academies.

10. All Academies will be visited by HMI, normally between the second and sixth term after opening. These monitoring visits* will normally be undertaken by one or two HMI over two days. HMI will report their findings orally and in writing. If they have concerns, these will be identified clearly; if the concerns are serious, HMI may arrange to make one or more further monitoring visits before the school has its section 3, deemed section 10 inspection. This is without prejudice to HMCI’s power to cause any school to be inspected at any time.

11. OFSTED and AD will consider the optimum timing for HMI to make a monitoring visit to a newly-opened Academy. An initial monitoring visit may be made as early as the second term if OFSTED or AD have serious concerns about the Academy’s progress, or if OFSTED and AD agree that such a visit will be helpful in promoting the Academy’s progress. This may be the case, for example, where there were serious concerns about the performance of the predecessor school or schools, and these concerns had not been addressed prior to the opening of the Academy. If the findings of the initial visit are positive, then further monitoring visits may not be necessary.

12. All Academies will be inspected by HMI within three years of opening unless there are exceptional circumstances. Until August 2005, they will be undertaken by HMI under section 3 of the School Inspections Act, will result in a published report and will be deemed to be section 10 inspections under the Act.. From September 2005 all Academies will be inspected within three years of opening under the new national inspection arrangements. The first inspection of an Academy will be led by HMI.

13. The above procedure has been agreed between the DfES and OFSTED to acknowledge and accommodate the new and different nature of academies. Because academies are not yet numerous, it would be difficult, under the current inspection arrangements, for registered inspectors to gain experience of visiting them. HMI who undertake the visits will have a good understanding of academies. The inspection of all academies by HMI will help to ensure that a consistent approach is adopted, and this will be reinforced by the involvement of some HMI in the inspections of several academies.

*A monitoring visit is an inspection under section 3 of the School Inspections Act 1996.
Revised November 2004.
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