Ofsted slates University-backed academy trust

Janet Downs's picture

The Education Central Multi Academy Trust (ECMAT), sponsored by the University of Wolverhampton, has been censured by Ofsted following focussed inspections in June.  

ECMAT runs ten primary and three secondary school in the West Midlands.  Its first two schools – primary sponsor-led academies – were opened in December 2012.   The remaining academies joined in 2013 and 2014 until the Trust comprised eight converter and five sponsor-led academies.  According to Ofsted, ECMAT’s leaders are ‘keen to grow in size in the future’.

It remains to be seen whether future expansion will be postponed following Ofsted’s negative verdict on the Trust.  While six ECMAT primary schools were judged good at their latest inspection, one secondary and two primary academies require improvement, and one primary and two secondary academies require special measures.

Ofsted issued a veiled criticism of the regional schools commissioner – no warning notices had been sent to any ECMAT academy.

Ofsted’s findings included:

  • ECMAT had been slow to take action to ‘support and improve’ education quality in its academies.
  • There was no effective plan to meet ECMAT’s aim of raising aspirations.
  • Weak teaching had been allowed to persist.
  • There was confusion over ‘roles, responsibilities, expectations and lines of accountability’.
  • In ECMAT’s secondary academies, ‘contracted support’ didn’t have much effect.
  • ECMAT’s impact was ‘inconsistent’.

Despite these negative findings, Ofsted reported that school leaders appreciated the opportunities to share best practice from within and outside the Trust.  ECMAT’s support for primary academies was more effective than support for its secondary academies.  School leaders in three of the four ECMAT academies judged less than good were taking ‘effective action in tackling the areas for improvement’ and ECMAT had begun to manage data and resources more efficiently especially since the appointment of Professor Michelle Lowe as Chief Executive Officer in December 2016.

The Government is keen for more universities to become involved in sponsoring academies or setting up multi-academy trusts (MATs).  But university influence is no guarantee that MATs will be successful:

  • The University of Chester Academy Trust was criticised by Ofsted in December 2016. 
  • The University of Liverpool ended its sponsorship of Enterprise South Liverpool Academy in January 2015 after the Department for Education (DfE) forecast a £2.6m deficit in the following three years. 
  • The University of Bournemouth ended its involvement with St Aldhelm’s Academy in Poole, Dorset, after the academy received a financial notice to improve in 2014.
  •  Also in 2014, The Bishop of Rochester Academy Trust, whose backers included Canterbury Church University, was ordered by the DfE to make structural changes to its sponsorship arrangements.  
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