Goings-on in Parliament: Ex-schools minister wants academies sponsored by private schools to be inspected by ISI not Ofsted; Gove gives the “evidence” supporting 10-hour school day.

Janet Downs's picture
Ex-schools minister, Nick Gibb, asked Education Secretary Michael Gove if he would bring forward changes in the law to allow the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) to inspect academies sponsored by schools or foundations from the private sector.

Schools minister, David Laws, told his predecessor there were no plans to change the law regarding Ofsted inspections. He reminded Gibb that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector was responsible for the inspection of all state-funded schools including academies and free schools.

Gibb’s suggestion would create a two-tier system. Grade 3 state-funded schools are judged as “Requires Improvement”. But if the ISI considers a private school to be Grade 3, it is judged to be “Sound”. A cynic might say this would allow politicians to claim there were no academies sponsored by independent schools which required improvement.

Perhaps, however, we should move away from separate inspections. There are already four inspectorates for English schools: Ofsted (all state and non-affiliated private schools); ISI (for schools which are members of associations affiliated to the Independent Schools Council); the Bridge Schools Inspectorate (some private Christian and Muslim schools) and the Schools Inspection Service (independent Steiner and Plymouth Brethren schools, and schools run by the for-profit chain Cognita).

If there is to be an inspection service (and not all countries have them – Finland, for example, closed its inspectorate down) then the same criteria should apply to all schools irrespective of whether they’re state-funded, independent, faith schools or run by for-profit organisations.

Ensuring all schools adhere to the same standards might go some way to breaking down the “Berlin Wall” between private and state schools.


Education Secretary Michael Gove said the evidence which proved state schools should open for 10 hours a day was the gap between the performance of fee-paying schools and state funded ones:

“…one sees that at the moment those who go on to independent schools are more likely to get good GCSEs and A-levels.”

He seems to miss the fact that many secondary private schools, particularly the ones described as “elite”, select their pupils on grounds of ability. This might have more to do with the high results than providing extra-curricular activities.

He also seems unaware the reason many private schools offer more extra activities than state schools is because their pupils board – the schools are acting as parents and giving their pupils something to do while other children go home to their families.

And the evidence Gove ignores, again and again, is the OECD finding way back in 2010 that UK state schools outperform UK private ones when socio-economic background is factored in.

Thanks to Rosie Fergusson for letting me know about Nick Gibb’s thoughts.
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Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 13/02/2014 - 13:20

This seems likely to be at the root of the Chief Inspector's recent spat with Michael Gove, as many have speculated in former LSN posts. It appears that Sir Michael had good reason to expect the support of Baroness Morgan as Chair of Ofsted, which would have been necessary for Ofsted to inspect Academies and Free Schools 'without fear or favour' and to inspect Academy Chains on the same basis as LAs, which is obviously required. This approach is also the right way to bring the state and the independent sector closer together - they should share the same national inspection regime.


"Chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw urged Michael Gove not to remove Baroness Sally Morgan from her post as chair of education standards watchdog Ofsted, it emerged on Wednesday.

Sir Michael told MPs the Education Secretary consulted him before making the decision. He added: “I did say to the Secretary of State that I wanted her to continue in post. She has been a very good chair and we had a very good working relationship.

“I’ve enjoyed two years of a really good relationship with Sally Morgan, particularly when I was first appointed and there were firestorms directed around me.”

The 'firestorms' are clearly set to return but from a different source whose interests will benefit from any weakening of the Chief Inspector's position. As David Laws has pointed out, this would indeed be unacceptable political interference with the work of Ofsted. But what is he and Nick Clegg going to do about it?

We will get a strong lead on what MIchael Gove intends when the new Chair of Ofsted is announced.

Robert's picture
Thu, 13/02/2014 - 22:18

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 14/02/2014 - 08:20

Thanks, Robert. It's reassuring to know a local authority is investigating the number of pupils who appear to "disappear" after Year 10 even when it involves academies. LAs, of course, have no jurisdiction over academies but it's encouraging that this LA is asking academy chains to explain why their cohort falls in Year 11 before GCSEs are taken.

There may, of course, be a genuine explanation. Pupils do move. However, alarm bells start ringing if the proportion leaving before an important exam year is more than would be expected.

And, of course, we need to know where these pupils end up, whether they take GCSEs and whether their appearance half-way through the two-year GCSE (or equivalent) course has a detrimental effect on both the pupils and the schools they end up in.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 14/02/2014 - 10:49

Janet - I think you are missing an important issue here. LA social services have responsibility for the safeguarding of children. This requires the LA to know which school all of its children are enrolled at, and if they are attending. This is a child protection issue that surely requires all schools, including Academies and other Independent schools to inform the LA whenever a child is removed from the school roll and the name of the receiving school, even if it is another LA. If the child is being 'home taught' then the home LA needs to know that too.

In the early days of Academies I obtained information from one Midlands LA that a new Academy in its area was refusing to disclose anything about its school roll and that the (Labour) government would do nothing about it.

So I suspect there is a serious problem here and that LAs are not only not getting this vital information, they may not even be asking for it and if they are then they are not insisting on receiving it.

One obvious example of the seriousness of this is girls being taken out of the country for the purpose of FGM or forced marriages.

I am appalled that schools, Ofsted and LAs think it is reasonable to lock-down schools as if they were prisons, require parents sitting in classrooms in full view of a class-full of kids and teachers while listening to children read to have CRB checks, yet omit to carry out the most basic of checks required to protect children from the real (not statistically highly improbable) risks they face.

The implications for allowing Academies and Free Schools to fiddle their exam results is also important as you point out.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 14/02/2014 - 11:21

Roger - you're right to point out that this issue isn't just about concerns re whether pupils are being "lost" in order to ensure better GCSE results. There should be a mechanism in place whereby all schools inform LAs when children leave their schools or where children are absent for a period of time with no explanation. They should also ensure that children are in education somewhere if only to be able to hand over records.

There used to be people employed as Child Welfare Officers (aka "kidnappers") who used to check absentee pupils. Do these still exist? The problem is, of course, that these posts were funded from the money which LAs kept back from school budgets. But with more of this money being sent directly to academies LAs have less money to spend.

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