Ofsted has today published a letter
about focused inspections of academies run by CfBT. But the letter was dated 21 May 2015
This isn’t the first time Ofsted has delayed publication of such letters (see here
). This is getting to be rather a habit. Earlier letters to E-Act, AET and TKAT were not delayed for more than a fortnight (E-Act’s was published on the same day).
But what of CfBT?
This MAT was the preferred choice
of Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) when it advised all its schools to become academies. So how has it fared?
CfBT grew too quickly, Ofsted said
. It didn’t have a ‘clear rationale’ for selecting schools. Neither did it develop a ‘strategy for creating geographical clusters’ nor a policy about how it would meet academies’ different needs. In 2013, Ofsted said, the Department for Education and CfBT recognised ‘significant weaknesses’ in CfBT’s ability to ‘meet the needs of its academies and free schools’
. However, five more sponsor-led academies joined CfBT in 2013/14.
Inspectors now find improvements at CfBT
. It has ‘better understanding’ about each individual academy’s performance and the ‘education team’ makes ‘regular and purposeful contact’ with the trust’s academies and free schools. These visits provide CfBT schools with ‘precise evaluation and clear, challenging feedback’. These are only at an early stage, however, and ‘decline as not yet been fully arrested’. Nevertheless, Ofsted appears confident that CfBT has the capacity to improve.
Missing from the list of CfBT academies in Ofsted’s letter are two which CfBT relinquished in 2013/14: Enfield Heights Academy, a free school which is now part of Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT), and Stamford Queen Eleanor School, a converter academy.
CfBT claimed it gave up the two schools because they were ‘geographically isolated’ (see here
, page 12). This might be true of Enfield – CfBT has no academies in this local authority. But Stamford Queen Eleanor is in Lincolnshire. CfBT has had a presence in the county since 2002 when LCC outsourced its School Improvement Service
to the organisation. And, as I said above, the trust was LCC’s preferred sponsor to take over the county’s schools. CfBT still has six academies in Lincolnshire. Two of them, the Deepings School and Sir John Gleed are within twenty miles of Stamford. Not quite so geographically isolated then.
Stamford Queen Eleanor was handed over to CMAT, the trust which had supported the proposal for Stamford Free School. The proposal wasn’t accepted but CMAT took over Stamford Queen Eleanor where it promises to fulfil the ‘free school vision
’ in the renamed Stamford Welland Academy.
All this raises several questions:
1Why is Ofsted delaying the publication of letters to academy trusts many months after they were sent when there was no such delay in similar letters sent before 2015?
2Was the DfE negligent in allowing CfBT’s swift expansion? Was it an error of judgement by ex-Education Secretary Michael Gove when he said he wanted chains to grow as quickly as possible
3Why was CfBT allowed to continue taking on academies in 2013/14 when weaknesses were identified in 2013?
4Do these identified weaknesses throw doubt on the reliability of Ofsted inspection reports written by CfBT, one of the three groups* which undertook inspections of schools on behalf of Ofsted until contracts expired in August this year?
*The three groups were CfBT, Tribal and Serco. Tribal and Prospects are still responsible for inspecting Early Years providers. Prospects wound up its academies arm, Prospects Academies Trust (PAT), leaving six academies in limbo
. The DfE had ‘paused’ PAT from taking over more academies because two of its academies (including one previously praised by Michael Gove
) were Inadequate. Many early years providers have called upon Ofsted to bring all early-years inspections in-house