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Friday, 05 September 2014 00:00

Academies Enterprise Trust under the spotlight yet again, with focused Inspection by OFSTED

OFSTED carried out a focused inspection of 12 of the schools run by Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) in June. I have previously written an article about AET entitled “Is this the worst school in the country, run by the worst academy chain? - Tree Tops Academy”. For AET also runs four Maidstone primary academies, three handed over by KCC because of their inability to turn the schools round, and which have also now been let down by AET. The article focuses on Tree Tops, but could equally have been about Molehill Copse Primary. The other two schools are Oaks Academy and St James the Great Academy. Currently, because of its poor record, AET is banned from taking on any further academies.

A letter from OFSTED to AET is highly critical of this, the largest academy chain in the country, with 77 schools under its control. The poor performance is in spite of the fact that, as Warwick Mansell  in the Guardian has Uncovered, some chains are given advance warning of focused inspections (you need to see Warwick’s additional information in the Comment section).

 OFSTED, in a Monitoring inspection Report about Molehill Copse carried out in April, after it failed its Inspection in December, wrote “The Academy Enterprise Trust’s statement of action includes all the areas for improvement from the school’s inspection. However, the organisation of the plan is muddled. It does not set out well enough who will lead the actions, what is hoped to be achieved, how progress towards goals will be checked and how this will be done. This means it is not a useful tool for governors and senior leaders to check how well the school is doing”. About Tree Tops it wrote: “Financial issues have prevented the Principal from ensuring staff have the right resources to support their teaching. The sponsor has not acted to provide resources even temporarily to resolve this issue”.......

Unfortunately, OFSTED is blocked by government from directly inspecting academy chains and so it has to get round this by writing such letters, which have no power of enforcement. The previous one was written to TKAT, which runs five primary academies in Thanet that are going through an equally troubled time, as explained here.

The focused inspections highlighted key weaknesses across many of the academies inspected in June. These included:

n teaching that was not good enough to enable all groups of pupils to make sufficient progress

n work that was not matched well enough to pupils’ abilities and did not provide sufficient challenge

n low expectations of what pupils can and should achieve

n pupils that lacked good communication and mathemat ical skills

n pupils that did not understand how to improve their work because marking and feedback were not good

n pupils with less than good attitudes to learning and unacceptable behaviour

n leaders that did not monitor how effectively their work was securing improvement

n governance that did not hold school leaders to account or ensure action was taken to promote improvement.

Concluding that: Overall, there is too much variability across the Trust, with some academies left to flounder.

OFSTED also carried out a survey of academy leaders which found that:

n leaders did not know how the Trust intends to ensure that every academy is good or better. Many leaders did not believe that there are enough good academies in the Trust to support the level of improvement required.

n some academy leaders felt isolated from the Trust as a whole. They did not believe the Trust played a significant part in the development of their academies.

n the Trust has introduced new systems to monitor performance but academy leaders doubted that these would work effectively. They said that data had not been used to identify weaknesses at an early enough stage.

n academy leaders did not have confidence in the Trust’s ability to provide the support they needed and were seeking help from other sources. Leaders agreed that the support offered by the Trust’s consultants was much stronger for English and mathematics than in other subjects and that science support was weak. Academy leaders said that support for improving pupil behaviour and attitudes to learning was not good enough.

n leaders did not have a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of governors and the Trust’s board. Some leaders were concerned that governors and the Trust were not rigorous in holding them to account.

n some leaders in primary and special academies felt that the Trust had too strong a secondary focus and that there was insufficient support for their phases of work.

n some academy leaders said that there was too much variability in the support and challenge offered by Regional Directors employed by AET.

The summary concludes: “Inspectors have yet to see a profound and consistent impact on the overall performance of academies across the Trust. AET has not provided effective support to all its academies. The rapid expansion of the Trust and a lack of strategic leadership have hindered improvement. Overall, some academy leaders are sceptical that the Trust will be able to help them improve to a good or excellent standard”.

One wonders where the extra value added by academisation, as claimed by government, can be found in this letter. Perhaps that is a question best asked by the new Chairman of OFSTED, Mr David Hoare, currently a Trustee of AET. 

Last modified on Friday, 05 September 2014 12:14

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