Ofsted sets precedent by ordering academy to improve standards

BBC News has reported that Ofsted has warned E-Act that it is failing to take effective action to improve standards in many of its schools. DfE also said the performance of the schools was “extremely disappointing”. Ofsted inspectors had previously classified five of the academies they inspected as failing and requiring special measures, and a further six were classed as “requiring improvement”.

Ofsted says 10 of the institutions have failed to improve since that round of inspections, and six of those had actually deteriorated. Inspectors found “poor quality teaching” in many of the academies, with coursework not matched to the ability levels of the pupils, while lessons were often not challenging enough for brighter pupils and there was a “lack of urgency” in taking action to close the gap between disadvantaged children and their classmates. Four of the chain’s schools were judged to be good and just one, Heartlands Academy in Birmingham, was classified as “outstanding”.

 Olly from PSI:This is an interesting development as it shows that Ofsted are now challenging chains as a whole, rather than simply inspecting individual schools…

There have been many calls from education leaders for Ofsted to inspect academy chains, including from the Labour, Liberal Democrat Schools Minister David Laws and HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw himself. It appears that Ofsted had the authority to challenge chains all along, as there has been no official announcement or consultation by either the regulator or the DfE to introduce this power. Education Secretary Michael Gove even said in oral education questions this week that Ofsted “already inspects academy chains”, as if it was not a revelation, despite calls for Ofsted to do so for months.

Crucially, Ofsted is only inspecting the individual schools within the chains – which has always been within their remit – and not the processes within the chain itself such as its financial arrangements. However by writing to E-Act directly, the inspectorate has crossed the Rubicon and will now be expected to order all chains with a significant number of underperforming schools to improve.