Ofsted to inspect but not judge academy chains: A marker or a defusing/side step tactic?

Andy V's picture
by Andy V
The Education Secretary gave approval for Ofsted to “take a closer look at the work of groups running chains of academies. But it will not be allowed to make judgments about whether a trust is effective or not.” This raises other issues:

•Is it an indication of the consistent and persistent 'without fear or favour' attitude and approach to inspection cited by Sir Michael Wilshaw in his protracted drive for academy chains to be subject to the same robust levels of inspection as Local Authorities, which has its roots in the Gove era?

•Is it a marker as to the level of progress made in Sir Michael’s strivings such that the Education Secretary felt the need to move away from her predecessor’s intransigent and protectionist stance on the matter?

•Is it an implicit acknowledgement by the Education Secretary that academy chains should be treated in the same way that Local Authorities are, albeit without the same teeth/rigour accorded by being graded based on the same basis of evidence, evaluation and judgement?

It seems to me that Ofsted, through the leadership of Sir Michael, has been insistent that all state funded schools and their collective leadership authority – whether Local Authority or Academy chain – be held to account in equally robust manner and measure through the inspection process and its embedded expectations. Not to do so is surely to highlight that there is a notable lack of equanimity and fair handedness, which enables academy chains to avoid the full rigour of Ofsted and ensuing public spotlight regarding their performance, effectiveness in terms of pupil outcomes, staff development and by no means least in relation to the financial resources expended by the taxpayer in supporting them. With the acclamation that more than 50% of England’s schools are now academies (and the government’s continued drive to create even more before the general election), it must surely be the right of all parents, carers and taxpayers to know how well and how effectively their children are being educated in our schools and likewise how well their hard earned income tax is being used in the furtherance and achievement of the latter educational goals.

In making this decision the Education Secretary appears to have attempted to defuse an increasingly vexed situation in the run up to the election through a Chamberlain-esque strategy of appeasement to side step it. Why? Might it be that it moved things from the indefensible intransigence of the Govian no way position, to deferring the time when Ofsted can both fully inspect the operation of academy chains and shed light on the best and weakest practices in the cost effective use of taxpayer funding?
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 25/01/2015 - 14:50

Andy - Morgan's approval isn't as appeasing as it first appears. It's actually business as usual. In her letter to Sir Michael Wilshaw (downloadable here) she says she still wants the focus to be on individual academies with Multi Academy Trusts (MATs). She says:

'I do not propose any formal extension to Ofsted’s remit.'

So MATs will not be inspected in the same way as Local Authority School Improvement Services are inspected.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 25/01/2015 - 15:38

You are right Janet. But it is still a step in the right direction.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 25/01/2015 - 14:58

In her letter, Morgan said she expected Ofsted's responsibilities to remain quite distinct from those of the EFA regarding the use of public money. But Ofsted already comments on the use of pupil premium and governance. These are bound to encroach on financial matters - as are leadership and management judgements.

Ofsted could spot concerns about how an individual academy uses public money. These could be passed to EFA to investigate. This is important because the accounts of academies in chains are consolidated into the MAT's group accounts and dodgy financial management at academy level is hard to spot from the group accounts. External auditing doesn't always spot shortcomings (eg Sawtry Community College). Neither does it judge whether thousands spent on hospitality or on an office desk is fair use of public money or not.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 25/01/2015 - 15:48

Not forgetting both the:

Y7 Catch-up
Primary School PE & Sports premium

The links to financial matters found within the section 5 handbook under L&M are more acute than first meets the eye:

p. 40 para 143 (Budget for overarching boards and CEOs of groups, federations or chains)
p. 45 paras 159/163 (Performance management, appraisal and salaries)
pp. 46/7 para 164 (Alternative provision and the implications for cost effectiveness)
pp. 47/8 para 165 (Governors responsibility for pupil premium, Y7 Catch-up, PE & Sport premium, solvency and probity and that the financial resources made available to the school are managed effectively, monitor performance management systems and understand how the school makes decisions about teachers’ salary progression)

Clearly it is not for Ofsted to undertake the equivalent of even a random audit regarding day to day expenditure but the aforementioned elements add an edge to proceedings.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 25/01/2015 - 15:08

The BBC was wrong when it said 'more than half' of schools were academies. That only applies to secondary schools. Most primaries are not academies.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 25/01/2015 - 16:27

I was disappointed and not a little concerned that in closing her letter the Education Secretary made no reference to Ofsted's independence:

"Transparency and clarity on the Ofsted role is of course important and to
support this I will be publishing this letter on the Department’s website as well
as disseminating it to MATs and approved academy sponsors."

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 25/01/2015 - 16:46

I too am disappointed but not in the least surprised. This is from the BBC report.

"Setting out new rules for academy trust inspections in a letter, Mrs Morgan said that the watchdog should continue to conduct "batch" inspections of academies that are all run by the same trust.

She goes on to say that she would expect that Ofsted would meet with staff from multi-academy trusts shortly after inspections have taken place.

She said: "They should share and discuss the evidence already gathered and collect and consider further evidence to demonstrate the impact of the MAT's work with its academies."

This is very clearly the government assuming that they have the right to tell OfSTED which schools they want inspected and how they want the inspections to take place.

Compare this with the CQC, which inspected privately operated Hitchingbrooke hospital without consulting the Department of Health and produced a damning verdict to the great displeasure of much of the Conservative Party and the Daily Mail.

OfSTED needs the same freedoms and Tristram Hunt should include such a policy in the Labour election manifesto.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 25/01/2015 - 16:54

"Tristram Hunt should include such a policy in the Labour election manifesto", and/or the Conservative and LibDem - and other smaller - parties also bring Ofsted into line with CQC's independence.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 25/01/2015 - 16:58

I agree - the greater and wider the support for this the better.

John Mountford's picture
Sun, 25/01/2015 - 20:03

If any breaking news should convince the electorate that it is high time to wake up to the inequity created out of the blatant political manipulation of our education system, this should do it - but it probably won't!!!

I agree with your comment, Roger,
"This is very clearly the government assuming that they have the right to tell OfSTED which schools they want inspected and how they want the inspections to take place."

It may be too early to predict whether Michael Wilshaw has the stomach to continue chipping away at a system presently operating to protect political self-interest to the exclusion of fair play. Their blatant indifference for ensuring equity and probity in publicly funded services is simply unbelievable.

Maybe as you say, Andy, some more principled individuals from ALL political parties will realise that the oversight of public services must be open, fair and transparent. Without stringent systems that clearly uphold the independence of our education inspectorate, there will be no meaningful accountability and politicians will continue to believe it is their 'inalienable right' to abuse the education reform process.

It will not surprise regular commentators here what I believe. Until education governance is taken out of party politics it will always be possible for individual politicians to tinker with the system with no other prospect than that the next 'bright spark' WILL come along very soon and change it again, simply because they can.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 26/01/2015 - 09:10

John and Roger - the SoS does has the right to order school inspections. This, as you say, undermines Ofsted's independence. Gove ordered inspection of fifteen B'Ham schools following the Trojan Horse letter despite having received no complaints about ten of them.

That's not to say the DfE shouldn't forward complaints it receives about schools. But the decision whether to inspect should be Ofsted's. It should not be up to the SoS. This raises the possibility of the SoS ordering inspections for political reasons (Was this what happened with Downhills? And was the about-turn after positive monitoring influenced by Gove?).

Ofsted's independence is further compromised since its website has moved to Gov UK. This suggests that Ofsted might not have full control of the content.

agov's picture
Mon, 26/01/2015 - 10:30

Here's another BBC report, from last October -


It quotes Wilshaw:

"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."

Morgan's new letter is surely mostly only a recognition and acceptance of what Ofsted is already doing including Wilshaw's little wheeze to partially get around Gove's refusal to allow inspection of chains/MATs. The only new bit I see is her (personal but not legislative) acceptance/encouragement to discuss school inspections with the MAT. There doesn't seem to be any mention of MATs being required to meet with Ofsted.

Morgan has also provided plenty of scope for MATs to limit any such discussions - finance is for the EFA not Ofsted at MAT level; the focus is on outcomes of the individual schools rather than the competence of the MAT; MAT support for its schools can be discussed but it's down to the school to achieve outcomes.

Presumably Ofsted could conclude that every school in a MAT is inadequate but still not be able directly draw conclusions about MAT competence. Local authorities, local authority schools and academy schools are judged. MATs get a discussion and a non-judgemental letter.

I'd say that it's a denial by the secretary of state that MATs should be treated in the same way that Local Authorities are.

Marks to Wilshaw for coming up and being allowed to continue focused inspections of MATs (at least until after the election) but Morgan's letter is more like only half a step forward.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.