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?