Academy chain Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) continues to do badly. That's the conclusion of Ofsted in its letter to AET re the latest focussed inspections of AET academies.
AET was a rapidly growing academy trust and is still subject to a Financial Notice to Improve. It's already had to give up eight of its academies following earlier Ofsted concerns in 2014. The cost of these transfers is as yet unknown but the cost of transferring eight E-Act academies in similar circumstances was about £1.5m. It could be argued that AET's problems stem from this swift expansion which, remember, was encouraged by Michael Gove when he said he wanted to see academy chains grow as quickly as possible. In retrospect, this wish seems reckless.
AET has issued a statement disputing Ofsted's findings. AET claims the proportion of Inadequate academies has dropped from 27% to 6%. That could be because five* of the eight academies transferred from AET to new sponsors were Inadequate: one had serious weaknesses and four were judged to require special measures. Transferring Inadequate academies would reduce the proportion of such academies.
Ofsted found seven of AET’s 66 remaining academies which had been inspected were Inadequate. That’s 10.6% not 6%.
There’s also a mismatch between what Ofsted says is the proportion of AET academies judged Good or better and what AET says. AET claims 64% of its academies are Good or better; Ofsted says it’s 59%. It should be remembered, of course, that losing Inadequate academies would likely raise the proportion of Good or better ones.
Ofsted recognises there's been improvement in the proportion of AET academies judged Good or better since the previous focussed inspections in 2014. But this improvement was mainly in the primary sector. Only 41% of AET secondary academies are Good or better ‘and far too many pupils continue to suffer a sub-standard education’.
There’s a further discrepancy between statements by Ofsted and AET about the data concerning disadvantaged pupils. AET says the ‘gap between the proportion of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils receiving five good GCSEs including English and Maths is now 5.4%, smaller than the national average.’ Ofsted, on the other hand, says ‘the attainment of disadvantaged pupils continues to give cause for concern’. Where the gap is relatively small, Ofsted says, this is often due to ‘weaker attainment by non-disadvantaged pupils’. In other words, where the gap is narrow, it’s because non-disadvantaged pupils aren’t achieving as well as they should.
Ofsted says the proportion of disadvantaged pupils making expected progress by the end of Key Stage 4 in 2015 is causing ‘serious concern. Expected progress for disadvantaged pupils fell in English and Maths in 19 and 12 AET academies respectively.
As the Education and Adoption Bill moves through Parliament, the Government still insist that academy conversion, especially with a sponsor, is the best way to improve schools. But this isn’t true in all cases. And the Department for Education hasn’t yet responded to Henry Stewart’s challenge to find evidence of sponsored academies’ superior performance.
The letter re focussed inspection was dated 28 January 2016 and released today, 4 February. It appears Ofsted has begun to publish such letters promptly after a period when letters were delayed for several weeks. Let’s hope this swift publication continues.
*The five AET academies which were Inadequae when transferred to new sponsors were:
East Point Academy
Tree Tops Primary
Molehill Copse Primary Academy
Of the three remaining transferred academies, one , Childwall Sports and Science Academy, Required Improvement; one, Oaks Primary Academy was Good and one, The Dunston School, was Outstanding.