Ofsted: Busting the myths about academies and local authority schools

This year’s much heralded Ofsted report contains some valuable figures that are barely reported. The report comments:

“Too many academies do not receive effective challenge and support. More than 2,000 academies are not part of a MAT and some have become isolated. Isolation can lead to underperformance. Our analysis of academies that experienced a sharp fall in inspection grade last year shows that most had not made arrangements for external support and challenge until it was too late and serious decline had set in.”


For the Anti Academies Alliance, Ofsted is not the final arbiter on the quality of education and it has been much criticised for its role in the academisation of schools. However this week’s data is yet further proof that the programme is not working and must be stopped until a full inquiry into education can be held.


So what are they alluding to?

Ofsted separates schools into several categories, the most important of which are local authority maintained, academy convertors, sponsor-led academies.

Since academy convertors have tended to be the highest performing schools which felt they had little need of LA support, they are unsurprisingly doing quite well.

The real story lies in the sponsor-led academies. These are generally the schools that the sadly departed Michael Gove decided were underperforming and who persuaded or forced to become academies.

Comparing these to the LA maintained schools shows that far from improving, sponsor-led academies continue to struggle.

la and academy stats



Summarised to good and outstanding or require improvement and inadequate

la and academy figures




Seen graphically

la schools









sponsor led academies








When you compare them together

la and academy ofsted comparison









The figures for Ofsted reports in the last year are more extreme:

Overall effectiveness of maintained schools and academies inspected between 1 September 2013 and 31 August 2014, by phase and typela and academy figures v2
Summarised to good and outstanding or require improvement and inadequate
la and academy figures v3

la and academy ofsted comparison this year








So whilst 50% of sponsor-led academies that have been assessed by Ofsted are in the require improvement or inadequate categories, this rises to 70% of those assessed in the last year, a significant increase.

Academies, we were told, are the answer to a school’s problems. From the very outset we have argued that this is not the case. The stories about the problems encountered by academies, and sponsor chains, continue to pour in, yet still the main parties claim that academies work. We will continue to expose the truth, and argue that we need a democratically run education system that puts the educational needs of all our children over the narrow political agenda ultimately set by those who believe our schools should be run for profit.

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Ofsted chief says struggling schools ‘no better off’ under academy control


Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Ofsted chief inspector, has hit out at a key plank of the government’s education policy, arguing that struggling schools are no better off in academy chains than under local authority control.

He is calling for an end to “sterile” debates over school structures and argues that “a new name and a breathless new motto” was all some schools received after exchanging local authority control for being governed by a chain of academies, the policy encouraged by the former education secretary Michael Gove.

Wilshaw said there could be little difference in school improvement under an academy chain or a council. Imagining the position of a head teacher of a newly converted academy, he said: “In fact, the neglect you suffered at the hands of your old local authority is indistinguishable from the neglect you endure from your new trust.”

Speaking at the launch of Ofsted’s annual report card on the state of England’s schools, Wilshaw’s scepticism about multi-academy trusts being a recipe for successfully turning around failing schools puts him at odds with Department for Education (DfE) policy of using academy chains to reinvigorate local authority schools which have had poor results.

“Schools marooned in partnerships without effective networks find it hard to improve and just as hard to sustain improvement,” Wilshaw said. “It doesn’t matter if they belong to a local authority or a multi-academy trust. If oversight is poor and expectations low, the problems are uniformly similar and depressingly predictable: a lack of strategy to help the weakest schools and an absence of challenge to the best.”

Alice Sullivan, a professor of education at UCL’s Institute of Education, said Wilshaw was right to say that structures alone made little difference. “There is no robust evidence that any particular school structure or type – such as academies, free schools, faith schools – is beneficial for improving the performance of poor pupils,” Sullivan said.

Although Wilshaw did not single out any academy chains by name, a recent Ofsted inspection of schools belonging to AET, the country’s largest chain, found that half of its schools were failing to deliver a good education.

In response to the speech, Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, said: “We should not lose sight of the incredible improvements we have already seen under this government. There are a million more children in good or outstanding schools and a 60% increase in the proportion of young people studying the core academic GCSEs that employers want. We now have 100,000 more six-year-olds able to read, thanks to our focus on phonics.

“There is more to do, of course, but with more children now being taught in good or outstanding schools than ever before, everyone involved with the education system should be incredibly proud of the progress that has been made in the past few years.”

The Ofsted report focused on what Wilshaw argued was the relative success of primary schools in England compared with secondary schools, where results in the past year were said to have stalled because of continuing poor behaviour and weak leadership.

“There is a worrying lack of scholarship permeating the culture of too many schools,” the report claims.

“Inspectors found too many instances of pupils gossiping, calling out without permission, using their mobiles, being slow to start work or follow instructions, or failing to bring the right books or equipment to class.”

But the report’s claims were attacked by unions and teachers’ representatives, who argued that Ofsted’s comparisons between primary and secondary school performance were unfair and misleading.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents the bulk of headteachers criticised by Ofsted, rejected Wilshaw’s suggestion that progress in secondaries had stalled.

“Ofsted has failed to recognise that overall attainment by 16-year-olds is effectively capped by the current GCSE awarding process. As student attainment is the critical element in the Ofsted grading, it is no surprise that the proportion of schools graded good or better is relatively unchanged,” he said.

“While we know there remains room for improvement, we must recognise the journey that secondary schools have been on. In this period of massive reform, when Ofsted inspection has become even more rigorous, secondary schools should be congratulated for their achievements. There is no complacency in our secondary schools.”

Wilshaw made a veiled dig in his speech at the government’s push to move teacher training away from university courses and towards its School Direct programme, where trainee teachers are taught in approved schools with high ratings. It has proved to be less popular with applicants, who prefer university-based courses.

“Good and outstanding schools with the opportunity to cherry-pick the best trainers may further exacerbate the stark differences in local and regional performance. The nation must avoid a polarised education system where good schools get better at the expense of weaker schools,” Wilshaw said.

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, said the remarks were an indictment of the government’s failure to deliver high quality teaching, which was leading to a crisis in schools.

“Under a future Labour government, all classroom teachers will have to become qualified teachers and be required to update their subject knowledge and teaching practices as a condition of remaining in the classroom. Labour will end the watering down of teaching standards that is harming our children’s life chances,” Hunt said.

The DfE defended the government’s record on recruiting the best teachers, saying: “We now have more teachers in England’s classrooms than ever before, with record levels of top graduates entering the profession – one in six now holds a first-class degree.”


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Academies are to blame,’ says Tameside’s education chief after secondary schools are blasted by Ofsted

Academies have been blamed for dragging down educational standards in Tameside after it was revealed that just half of pupils attend a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ secondary school.

Secondary schools across the country have ‘stalled’ with almost a third judged not to be good enough, according to an annual Ofsted report.

Just 49 per cent of secondary students in the borough attend a school rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by the education watchdog.

Tameside is ranked 138th out of the 150 local authorities in England.

It is also the worst in the region for primary education where 80 per cent of youngsters go to a good enough school, tying with Oldham for 91st place.

Seven of the borough’s 15 schools are now academies and no longer under local authority control.

Coun Ged Cooney, executive member for learning at Tameside council, said: “We have known for some time that the borough’s academy schools, which the council has no control over, were negatively affecting this score.

“Thirty-seven per cent of pupils attending these academies attend a good or outstanding school compared to 63 per cent for the eight schools under our jurisdiction.

“So when Sir Michael Wilshaw talks of only 50 per cent of pupils attending schools in Tameside classed as good or better, this is disproportionately impacted by academies.”

But Stephen Ball, principal at New Charter Academy in Ashton which was told by Ofsted last year that it required improvement, said: “New Charter Academy provides a rich and stimulating education and it’s not surprising it’s become one of Tameside’s most popular schools and is set firmly on an upward trajectory.”

Responding to the report by Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, Coun Cooney added that the council was keen to work with academies to improve standards across the board.

He added: “We in common with Sir Michael believe that we should be doing all that we can to create good and outstanding schools regardless of whether they are academies.

“However we are frustrated that we have no powers to work with these schools and we are not clear who is doing this, if it is happening at all.

“We have been asking Sir Michael, as well as the Department for Education, for some time, to come to Tameside to work with us to improve the academy scores which will positively affect our overall score going forward. To date they have not taken up our offer.”

Ofsted inspections give schools one of four overall ratings – inadequate, requires improvement, good or outstanding.

Tameside’s secondary schools are listed below with their current rating and the date of the last inspection.

Local authority

Alder Community High School – Good (June 2014).

Astley Sports College and Community High School – Requires improvement (June 2014).

Denton Community College – Requires improvement (October 2013).

Hyde Community College – Good (May 2014).

Longdendale Community Language College – Requires improvement (September 2013).

Mossley Hollins High School – Outstanding (November 2014).

St Damian’s RC Science College – Good (March 2014).

St Thomas More RC College – Good (December 2012).


All Saints Catholic College – Good (December 2012).

Audenshaw School – Inadequate (October 2014).

Copley High School – Good (November 2012).

Droylsden Academy – Inadequate (March 2014).

Fairfield High School for Girls – Outstanding (January 2013).

New Charter Academy – Requires improvement (March 2013).

West Hill School – Inadequate (December 2013).



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Parents Campaign at Inkersall Primary – Hands Off!


Hands Off Inkersall Primary School!

Inkersall Primary School is a very large primary in Derbyshire that serves the community for Inkersall. Over 400 children are educated at the school. Unfortunately, the school was deemed inadequate by Ofsted in February this year, and this made it a prime target for the DfE’s academy programme.

Due to its size and location, Inkersall Primary is a very attractive potential acquisition for an academy chain. The fact that a nearby primary (Barrow Hill) was judged inadequate in 2011 and has been left well alone by Lord Nash is very interesting. Perhaps it was left well alone because it only has 105 students; there would be less money for the academy sponsor to play with, and therefore they are not interested.

The financial attractiveness of Inkersall Primary is why suddenly parents’ views count for nothing. And governors are called ‘obstacles to progress’ and dismissed when they refuse to cooperate; this is what happened to the Inkersall Primary governing body recently when they dared to turn down Lord Nash’s invitation to become a sponsored academy. This was in spite of the school showing improvement; a fact clearly recognised by Ofsted in the Section 8 monitoring inspection conducted on the 8th May 2014. An IEB, composed of just four members, all with affiliations to existing academy chains, was appointed in September 2014, after just a few weeks in post for the promising new head teacher, Mr Brookes. We are clearly dealing with an unfair system that prioritises its own agenda and pushes aside or undermines anyone who stands in opposition.

The interesting, and very worrying, thing is that this IEB (our ‘new’ governing body) is actually impossible to contact. Parents have tried numerous times to contact the chair, David Wootton, to no avail. All they want to ask is when the next public meeting with the IEB will be so they can arrange to attend and help to secure the best prospects for their children. It seems that one governing body, that was allegedly ‘an obstacle to progress’, has been replaced by another that is unfit for purpose. Parents should be able to make easy contact with the governing body at their child’s school. Shouldn’t they?

Moreover, one member of the IEB is the CEO of the academy trust that wants to sponsor our school. This person has a clear interest in acquiring the school for her academy chain, and she has been allowed the privilege of governing our school even before the ‘consultation’ process has begun. This is just is not fair, and it isn’t right.

To add to this unfairness and lack of transparency, there is the blatant disregard for the opinions of parents and people in the wider community. David Wootton has made it very clear that forced academisation will be the most likely route for our school, regardless of the findings of the consultation process. And not only has the sponsor been chosen, but the CEO of the chosen sponsor sits on the Interim Executive Board. Furthermore, the demands made by parents and community members for a public meeting with the IEB and other stakeholders are not even being acknowledged. They are hoping that if they ignore us, we will go away! We won’t, of course.

Interestingly, the nearby primary, Barrow Hill, was recently rated ‘good’ after their last inspection. Surely this tells us that Inkersall Primary does not need to be forced into academisation to make it improve. Surely, with the right support from the Derbyshire Local Authority, improvements at our school will be made. Indeed, improvements have already been made. And we all know that there is no hard evidence to suggest that academies do improve education for our children. In fact, recent studies by the LSN have shown that primary-aged children are actually more likely to achieve more at a local authority school than a sponsored academy.

At the moment, Inkersall Primary (even with the ‘inadequate’ judgement from Ofsted) is a calm, happy, secure environment for our children. The teachers work extremely hard to make it this way – some of them have devoted 25 years to the school. They deserve our respect and admiration, not to be told they are ‘underperforming’ or part of a ‘failing school’. There is currently an unhealthy focus on the final results of our children, rather than the process of education. The children at Inkersall Primary get a decent education, even if the results currently do not appear to support this. And it is highly likely that this good provision will be undermined by the instability and upheaval caused by conversion to a sponsored academy. The school should not be made to submit to change for the sake of change because Lord Nash says so. Nor should it be swallowed up by an academy chain so that Lord Nash can pretend that his academy programme isn’t a failure.


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£71m Paid to Companies Owned by Academy Directors

£71m Paid to Companies Owned by Academy Directors

The National Audit Office has reported that 976 academy trusts – 43% of those examined in 2013 – disclosed “related party transactions” worth an estimated £71m. Almost £9m of this money posed a risk to public money, it added.

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the public accounts committee which will question education officials about the figures, told the Education Funding Agency (EFA) to get a grip of these ‘dubious’ relationships, adding ‘Related party transactions are a big issue … I am very concerned that the agency’s reliance on whistleblowers and ad hoc reports means that many more questionable business relationships could exist and have gone unchallenged, putting public money at risk.  Given its track record, I have little confidence that the agency will know if academies are complying with its new guidance’.
The report was sparked by inquiries into alleged irregularities and potential conflicts of interest at the Durand academy trust in south London.  The report says that the structures and associations between the school and its directors were ‘complex’.  Durand has never been far from the headlines whether over its headteacher’s salary,  spending of £20,000 per month – yes a month! – on PR (to a company run by a governor of course) or its development of state boarding provision in the Sussex countryside.

In the same week that NAO published this report, the government announced that it would be encouraging academy trusts to take out loans rather than apply for grants for building projects.  What could possibly go wrong?  The Local Schools Network has come up with some answers.

Death Knell for the Converter Academy

The Haringey Independent reports that a secondary school has been refused permission to convert to an academy.  The school which has an Ofsted rating of “good” had boasted of record breaking exam results but the DfE’s Regional Schools Commissioner disagreed and suggested it join a multi-academy trust or chain.  It seems that the DfE no longer wants stand-alone academies.  So, all the talk of increased school autonomy was just hot air; individual academies will have much less autonomy than under their previous maintained status. Read our full analysis here.

Forced Academies

Bisham Church of England Primary sits on the banks of the River Thames in the exclusive borough of Maidenhead, where Home Secretary Theresa May is the local MP.  The school’s story has followed a familiar path, downgraded in a rushed Ofsted inspection from ‘good’ to ‘special measures’, the long-standing headteacher has been forced out and a compliant local authority seems unbecomingly eager to hand over this inclusive village school to the DfE and their preferred sponsors.  What’s different about this story is that parents fear that this is nothing more than a land grab – the school’s idyllic site occupies is estimated to be worth £250,000,000.

Parents at Inkersall Primary School in Stavely, Derbyshire are furious that although their academy consultation has not even officially started, the DfE has set a date for conversion to a Spencer Trust sponsored academy! You can follow their campaign on Facebook.chool’ with a hand over date of 1st May 2015.

We thought that if the consultation were to be FAIR and MEANINGFUL, the outcome should not already have been decided. It has clearly been decided.

The forced academy programme is so unpopular with parents and communities that ending it would be a quick win for any future government argues Annie Powell writing in the New Statesman.

Waiting for Inspiration

Lawyer Julian Gizzi has been appointed to head the independent inquiry into Ofsted and the Inspiration Trust. You will recall that Ofsted cleared itself of any wrong doing over the allegations that Norfolk’s Inspiration Trust had been given notice of inspections. Then further emails came to light suggesting that the Principal Dame Rachel de Souza, one of Michael Gove’s favourites, may have had just an inkling. We look forward to hearing what Mr Gizzi has to say.  Meanwhile the Regional Schools Commissioner has said he will keep a close eye on the chain as GCSE results appear to have slumped.

Governing the Governors

The recent ‘U turn’ over academy conversion at Hove Park was, in large part, due to the election of three anti-academy parent governors. The Department for Education now requires all governing bodies of local authority maintained schools to ‘reconstitute’ by September 2015.  Switching from the stakeholder model we’ve had since 1988, the DfE wants to see much smaller governing bodies as they’re apparently more efficient and effective.  Schools will have only one governor nominated by the local authority, a minimum of two parent governors and only one staff governor. And the guidance explicitly states that their role is ‘not to represent the interests of the constituency from which they were elected or appointed’. Who will provide checks and balances, ensuring that schools are challenged by a range of opinion and experience?  Would it have been more difficult for the parents and staff at Hove Park School to fight off the headteacher’s plans to convert if the governing body had included only two parents and one staff member?  The new governing bodies closely mirror the structure at many academies. Perhaps this is the reason Lord Nash and the Department are insisting on reconstitution?

In his Guardian Speed Read column, Warwick Mansell queried whether Academies Minister Lord John Nash was following his own department’s guidance. Nash runs Futures Academies whose Pimlico Academy has just one parent representative on its board. Hopefully such idiosyncrasies will be ironed out soon with the appointment of a new company secretary at Futures.

The Chains they Revere

Academies Week reports the welcome news that England’s largest academy chain – AET – has dropped plans to outsource its support staff.  Academies Week also reviews the Ofsted gradings for AET and the next four largest chains.  Four out of the big five chains have more than half of their academies judged as requiring improvement or inadequate. It doesn’t make for pretty reading, especially for parents and staff at Weyfield Primary Academy in Guildford, Surrey. Their previously ‘good’ school has been downgraded by Ofsted one year after their own ‘inspiring’ headteacher was forced out when TKAT came in.  TKAT have 40 schools in Hampshire, Surrey and Kent and they rank bottom of the big five with 62% of their academies judged as inadequate or requiring improvement.
And in Witham, Essex, Tory MP Priti Patel has slated AET academy trust’s plans to merge two of its academies.  Comparing the chain to Tesco, she argues that AET was allowed to grow too quickly under the last government.

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