EXCLUSIVE: No more focussed inspection letters in pipeline, says Ofsted

Janet Downs's picture

How many more letters about focussed inspections of academies in multi-academy trusts (MATs) were still in the pipeline? That was the question I asked in mid-October when I discovered yet again that publication of another such letter had been delayed.

A pattern was emerging about focussed inspections which took place in 2015 – publication of letters to MATs was being delayed. In two cases (Oasis Community Learning Trust and Collaborative Academies Trust) critical letters sent before the election were not made public until after voting had taken place.  A cynic might say postponing publication avoided bad news about academies being known during campaigning. It could have detracted from propaganda about the wonderfulness of reforms pushed through by Michael Gove when he was education secretary.

Since the delayed publication of the OCL and CAT letters, more letters appeared weeks, even months, after they were initially sent to the MATs concerned. All bar one were critical. I began to suspect publication was being postponed for political reasons especially as the Education and Adoption Bill was moving through Parliament. A glut of letters criticising academy trusts would debunk Government hype about academy sponsorship.

The only way to discover whether any more letters were in limbo was to submit a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to Ofsted. I asked for the names of all MATs which had been sent letters re focussed inspections from 2014 to mid-October 2015 together with the date the letter was sent and when it was made public. I asked Ofsted to indicate if any on the list had not yet been published.

The reply gave the names of all MATs which had been sent letters and which had been published. But there was no mention of other letters. And the reply from Ofsted only referred to the first part of my request. It could have meant, of course, that there were no letters to MATs waiting publication. Or it could have meant there were still unpublished letters.

I asked Ofsted for clarification yesterday and received a reply this morning. There are no letters to MATs stuck in the pipeline. If there are more such letters in future I hope they will be published simultaneously. This will avoid the suspicion that Ofsted is being leant on to postpone publication in order to soften bad news.

I’d like to thank Kerry McTear at Ofsted for her prompt response.

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Guest's picture
Wed, 18/11/2015 - 11:03

It strikes me that this situation gives rise to other telling questions e.g.:

1. Is it Ofsted that has been holding back the reports or have the delays been caused by others such as the DFE and/or SoS/Ministers?

2. If it has been Ofsted, it begs the question as to on what grounds?

3. If not Ofsted, then, who and on what grounds?

4. If not Ofsted what does it say about the alleged independence of that organisation?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 18/11/2015 - 12:05

Guest - Ofsted had its own website until 2015. Letters re focussed inspections in 2014 (to E-Act, AET and TKAT) were published simultaneously (or almost simultaneously).

But then Ofsted, along with Ofqual, OSA and other supposedly independent organisations, were moved to the GovUK website. I asked at the time whether this would compromise their independence.

Perhaps it's just a coincidence that publication of letters re focussed inspections in 2015 were delayed sometimes by months. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that two critical letters were postponed until after the election.

Or perhaps not.

Guest's picture
Wed, 18/11/2015 - 14:03

While I can see your line of thought I do not believe that rationalising what was a spiders web of discrete websites to come under an overarching approach i.e. Gov.Uk represents a particular threat to an organisations independence. What is more indicative of impaired independence is:

1. Who authorised or pressured Ofsted's delays in publication and on what grounds?
2. The fact that SMW, as HMCI, has been stopped from inspecting MAT/Chain sponsors in the same manner that LAs continue to be

With 2 being providing glaring evidence of interference/impaired/restricted independence.

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