Shadowy 'inspectors' entering schools is opaque and sinister

Janet Downs's picture

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.

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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 07:49

Andy- the comment about contradiction was a general one re the consequences of the parallel system. However, I should have qualified it by saying 'potentially'. Memo to self: be more precise in future.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 13:28

Barry,you are brilliant! Thanks for digging this up. The ad you found had a deadline of 03/02/2014 and the contract was to last 13 months. It's likely the advisor who visited Oasis Academy Wintringham was employed on this contract.

Your lead led me to the 'Contracts Finder Archive'. I typed in Education Adviser and found several contracts advertised but they were for checking vocational qualifications. However, I found an ad for Education Specialists: 'contractors to support the Academies and Free Schools Programme and help deliver the Department’s aim to ensure high educational standards in academies and free schools and to secure sponsorship arrangements for maintained schools moving to academy status'. The ad was dated 2 August 2015, deadline 21 September 2015, Contract start date 02 November 2015, Contract end date 31 October 2017.

This sounds very like the work of brokers to me.

I'll update the original article to include this new info. Thanks again.

Tim Davis's picture
Sat, 12/12/2015 - 14:25

I think we are entitled to know who these shadowy consultants are- such info needs to include qualifications and experience including specifics like how many schools they have run as a headteacher etc.After all credibility is king.......

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 12/12/2015 - 14:58

Tim - see my latest post.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 09/12/2015 - 14:48

Sinister is the right word. I had no idea this was going on. Thank you Janet and Warwick Mansell.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 09/12/2015 - 17:25

I found the article disquieting to say the least, and was left questioning not only the RSC inspectors professionalism but also their appropriateness and ability for the role.

It also raises some challenging questions about not only the remit of the RSC posts but also, and perhaps more keenly, whether non-Ofsted inspection visits are relevant within such a short proximity of a formal Ofsted inspection.

That said, I did not pick-up that this inspector "contradicted" the Ofsted report findings but was rather a case of producing a different analysis or viewpoint. The former would be untenable to the point of being abject nonsense, in that an Ofsted team (3+ dependent on school roll) went in for 2 days to arrive at their judgements and this other person managed it in a single day! What it smacks of is interference in the academy's L&M team and sponsor's approach. The alleged statements by the inspector were effectively a castigation of the academy and sponsor for not taking decisive action against teachers whose result didn't stack up. However, a professional association might construe it as workplace harassment and bullying. Oasis say the failure to give the academy advance notice was a communication error/oversight but a cynic could just as well view this differently.

Even under Lord Adonis when a DfE pre-academisation team visited it was:

1. Pre-arranged
2. The inspectors (often former headteachers) were careful not to be at odds with last Ofsted report - particularly if it was on a relative adjacent timeline

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 09/12/2015 - 18:09

The earlier evidence presented to the Select Committee about RSCs ( links in my Guardian piece) suggested the the identity of the education "advisers" couldn't be released as it was commercially sensitive. Then a list of the contractors who employ the advisers was produced before Lord Nash gave evidence, but that still doesn't tell us anything about the individuals who appear to be carrying out these "inspections". It really is bad and unaccountable system which I doubt very much will help schools to improve.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 09/12/2015 - 18:59

Fiona - A difficult situation in terms of accessing the relevant information, which I guess would fall under the DPA and a subject access request (SAR) rather than the FOIA, and they've blocked the former by dint of "commercial sensitivity". That said, obtaining a list of the contractors could be a step along the way. I doubt that any of the governors who remain resigned or the former headteacher would let the inspectors name slip.

I agree it is a truly appalling system. Academies and RSCs are state funded but as you say there is no accountability, which means that neither taxpayer nor local electorate can have any insight into the what, how, when and why.

agov's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 11:30

Perhaps heads should ask their unions for legal advice about challenging the authority of these shadowy ‘inspectors’

Indeed they should, perhaps from the solicitors featuring in this story of a school dealing with brokers and attempted enforced academisation. -

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 10/12/2015 - 12:45

Well this looks like the job ad:

The Department for Education is looking to procure up to 20 Education Advisers to support delivery of the Academies and Free Schools Programmes. We seek high-calibre individuals, with a proven track record in developing and leading outstanding schools or those who able to demonstrate how they have affected rapid and sustainable school improvement.

Leah Williams's picture
Sun, 13/12/2015 - 13:52

An education consultant was called in to do two review days in the school where I worked. We deemed these days to be non-statutory inspections or 'mocksteads' and as we were NUT members, informed management we'd boycott these days as NUT action short of strike advises teachers to refuse to take part in such non-statutory inspections. We had signs prepared for our doors infirming the Inspectors' of our boycott, which we did not need to use, as the inspection was indefinitely postponed. As teachers we all need to put our foot down, use the right we still have to refuse to take on any more unreasonable workload and say enough is enough.

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