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Ofsted chief criticises academy chains

by Rajdeep

England’s largest academy chains have “serious weaknesses” as bad as the local authorities they were intended to replace, Sir Michael Wilshaw has told the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, in strong criticism of the government’s flagship school improvement programme.

In a memo to Morgan published on Thursday, the Ofsted chief inspector singled out seven of the worst-performing multi-academy trust (MAT) chains, citing weak leadership, poor performance and lack of oversight as among the concerns found by his inspectors.

“Many of the trusts manifested the same weaknesses as the worst performing local authorities and offered the same excuses. Indeed, one chief executive blamed parents for pupils’ poor attendance affecting pupils’ performance,” Wilshaw said in his letter.

“There has been much criticism in the past of local authorities failing to take swift action with struggling schools. Given the impetus of the academies programme to bring about rapid improvement, it is of great concern that we are not seeing this in these seven MATs and that, in some cases, we have even seen decline.”

Trust leaders were not doing enough to improve attendance or behaviour, according to Wilshaw, who criticised a lack of urgency, insufficient scrutiny from trustees and confusion over responsibilities.

“Given that the academies movement was initiated principally to improve the performance of disadvantaged pupils, it is particularly concerning that many of the academies in these trusts are failing their poorest children,” Wilshaw said, citing the wide variations among chains.

Wilshaw’s remarks are the latest in a string of controversial comments. Ministers are said to be increasingly exasperated at his almost daily interventions as he approaches retirement later this year.

A Department for Education spokesperson said Wilshaw’s report presented “a partial and skewed picture”.

“Work is already underway in all of these cases with regional school commissioners challenging these chains to show how they will improve and, where that is not happening, taking swift action – a sharp contrast to days when underperforming schools were left to languish under local authorities,” the DfE said.

Wilshaw said he was publishing the appraisal in light of “the government’s clear intention to move to a fully academised system and, in the prime minister’s words, ‘make local authorities running schools a thing of the past’”.

A DfE source said: “It’s surprising that Sir Michael thought he could produce advice on MATs based on such a skewed selection”

Labour seized on Wilshaw’s remarks as evidence that the government should scale back plans for all state schools in England to become academies, arguing that a pause was needed to resolve the problems.

“Ofsted has identified a number of very serious concerns within these academy chains. The lack of oversight, the lack of capacity within the governance structures and failure to deliver improvements are all issues we have been raising for months,” said Lucy Powell, the shadow education secretary.

“As the government continues, without evidence, with its agenda to turn all schools into academies and no system of local oversight to spot and challenge underperformance early, these problems will only get worse.”

Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Academy chains simply do not have the resources or expertise to resolve problems where they occur. The government needs to change tack and admit that its obsession with structural changes to schools has failed.”

“Given the lack of leadership capacity and the ineffective monitoring of individual academies in these trusts, it is surprising that some continue to operate over such wide geographical areas,” Wilshaw told Morgan.

“If we are to improve national standards in an increasingly autonomous system, much more needs to be done to reduce the variation in standards between the best and the worst academy trusts,” he said.

The most recent inspection of SPTA was published alongside the letter to Morgan. It found “persistent weaknesses in the quality of teaching that prevent pupils making good progress”. The Ofsted inspectors recommended that the trust “urgently” improve, especially in its secondary schools.

[Source:- Theguardian]

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