When an education adviser visited Oasis Academy Wintringham at the request of a Regional Schools Commissioner, the governing body found this so-called inspection was a 'dreadful experience for the school', according to Minutes seen by Warwick Mansell writing in the Guardian. But this wasn’t an official Ofsted inspection – Ofsted had visited the academy in March 2014 and judged it to Require Improvement. Monitoring in September 2014 found the academy and sponsor were taking effective action to address the problems highlighted in March. Ofsted recognised overall results were low but noted there had been considerable turbulence of staff as well as inaccurate assessment of pupils’ work.
According to the Minutes, the education adviser spoke of ‘retribution’ following poor results in 2014. The then head, Dr Chris Rolph, said he didn’t feel they were being treated as professionals. Dr Rolph left in September. Six members of the academy’s seven strong governing ‘council’ resigned in October claiming academy sponsor Oasis had not informed them either about the pre-warning letter sent by the RSC for East Midlands and Humber shortly after the March ‘inspection’ or Dr Rolph’s resignation. Oasis claims ‘errors in communication’.
This incident raises questions about these education advisers. What is their remit? Where does their authority come from? Do their ‘inspections’ trump those from Ofsted? What rules, if any, govern how they operate? Who are these ‘experts’ allegedly qualified to judge schools? A clue might be in the Parliamentary Written Answer dated 19 November 2015 about the demise of academy brokers who had gained a reputation for bullying and coercion. These would be replaced by ‘a pool of educational experts’ procured by the Department for Education (DfE) through ‘open competition’. It’s unclear how ‘open’ this ‘competition’ was – if anyone can find details I’d be grateful. Are they brokers by another name? Warwick Mansell’s article coincides with one from Local Schools Network founder Fiona Millar which describes how responsibility for the education system in England is now a ‘crowded landscape’ occupied by RSCs, local authorities, the Education Funding Agency (EFA) operating on behalf of the DfE, Ofsted, multi-academy trusts, single academy trusts and foundations including those run by church dioceses. Many of these cut across each other. Both Fiona and Warwick describe how the responsibilities of RSCs just keep on growing. This is leading to misunderstanding about their roles, ambiguity, inconsistency between RSCs, possibly exceeding their remit and concerns about potential conflicts of interest. And working below the radar are these ‘education advisers’, aka ‘educational experts’, who appear to be able to enter schools and ‘inspect’ them. And in the case highlighted above this has led to the loss of a head who Ofsted said was ‘working effectively’. Perhaps heads should ask their unions for legal advice about challenging the authority of these shadowy 'inspectors' and asking if it's possible to deny them entry. Perhaps Sir Michael Wilshaw should consider asking the DfE why it has put in place a system which undermines and contradicts Ofsted. It is not just opaque, it is sinister.
UPDATE 10 December 15.46. The update posted earlier today has been expanded and published as a separate post here.