Oasis Community Learning Trust (OCL) has a ‘variable record of improvement’ in its academies, Ofsted found in its recent targeted inspections
. Inspectors concluded ‘too many’ academies in OCL, which has expanded rapidly particularly in the last three years, haven’t improved quickly enough.
Inspectors recognised OCL’s record of improvement was stronger in some areas than in others. But nearly half the academies showed ‘slow or little improvement’. Disadvantaged pupils, particularly boys, made ‘significantly less progress’ than such pupils nationally.
OCL’s leaders had included this in its priorities for improvement but there was no evidence of a focussed strategy, inspectors said.
OCL’s systems for collecting and reviewing performance data were good, according to Inspectors. The trust expected academies to submit data every seven weeks. Inspectors didn’t consider whether this amount of data collection and submission caused an overreliance on raw statistics and drew attention away from educating children.
All OCL academies had formal annual reviews by OCL leaders. Heads in OCL’s primary academies said they found review visits ‘helpful’ but Ofsted said ensuing reports were poor quality, lacked detail and didn’t list areas for improvement. Recent secondary reviews, on the other hand, did so.
OCL had brokered external consultants to support individual academies - this was welcomed by leaders. But inspectors found several consultants’ reports lacked detail and didn’t provide much challenge. This raises the question about what these consultants were actually paid for.
The one OCL teaching school was starting to have a ‘positive impact’ on other academies but was not able to reach them all because of its geographical situation. OCL recognised this and were setting up regional hubs to share good practice.
Although OCL made ‘good use of its strongest leaders’, this was hampered by ‘limited leadership capacity within the trust’. Confusion between the role of National Director of Academy Improvement and that of the Regional Academy Directors had a negative impact on progress in some academies.
Inspectors found OCL’s ‘strong and distinctive community ethos’ permeated all OCL academies. Principals spoke ‘enthusiastically’ about being in the Oasis ‘family’.
This centralization of safeguarding and child protection within OCL’s human resources department had ‘contributed to poor safeguarding practice in at least one academy’. OCL were now improving safeguarding policy but much work remains, warned inspectors. Leaders needed to take into account all new legislation which dealt with risks to children.
In its 2011/12 Annual Report
, Ofsted praised the rate of improvement at Oasis secondary academies when compared with the improvement rate of all state secondaries. Now Ofsted says improvement at many Oasis academies isn’t good enough. Perhaps Ofsted has belatedly realised that comparing improvement rates which start from different bases is misleading. In the same report, Ofsted particularly praised Oasis Academy Brightstowe where 62% of Y11s had reached the benchmark of 5 GCSEs (or equivalent) A*-C including Maths and English. But this dropped to 26% when equivalent exams were removed.
In 2011, Michael Gove, then Education Secretary, said chains should grow as quickly as possible
. This was foolish. Two years ago the Academies Commission (2013) warned about the rapid growth of some academy chains. It could be argued that the praise of academy chains in the 2011/12 Ofsted report fuelled this growth.
Other rapidly expanding chains, such as AET and TKAT, have since been criticised by Ofsted. But such criticism has come too late – the proposed cure, especially when hastily administered, didn’t always work.
The Government still claims that academy conversion especially with a sponsor is the best way to improve schools. The Education and Adoption Bill currently passing through Parliament makes academy conversion the expected route for school improvement. But it’s expensive and less effective than informal interventions such as local support. And now another large academy chain has been found wanting.