Ofsted gives 700 sponsored academies a fresh start

Ofsted gives 700 sponsored academies a fresh start

The Ofsted ratings of more than 700 schools have been wiped clean after becoming an academy or rebrokering, a Schools Week analysis reveals.

There are hundreds of thousands of pupils in these sponsored academies, many of which were categorised as underperforming by the education watchdog before having their Ofsted grades removed.

Ofsted classifies failing schools that have become sponsored academies or academies that have been rebrokered to a different trust as “new” – giving them a three-year respite from further inspections.

While the respite has been welcomed for giving trusts more time to drive sustainable improvement, a rapid rise in the number of rebrokered schools appears to be having other consequences, says a major study by the Sutton Trust, published last week.

Its report, Chain Effects, flags how multi-academy trusts (MATs) move up performance league tables after their low-achieving schools are rebrokered.
The findings have prompted questions over whether trusts should be given substantial numbers of new schools while some of their current academies are yet to have an Ofsted inspection.

Janet Downs, from the state school campaign group Local Schools Network, said she was “concerned” about MATs “dumping” their failing academies.

“Dropping underperforming academies or those judged less than ‘good’ under a MAT’s watch minimises damage to the MAT’s brand. History is rewritten when references to earlier MATs are wiped.”

Schools Week’s analysis of Ofsted monthly management data, published last month, found 718 sponsored academies yet to have Ofsted visits after having their past inspection records wiped clean.

History is rewritten when references to earlier MATs are wiped

The data does not include figures for how many pupils are in each of these schools. But based on average school sizes, we calculate they could be teaching more than 300,000 young people – or about 4 per cent of the 8.67 million pupils in England’s schools.

Schools Week revealed in February that 235 academies had been handed to new trusts in the past two calendar years, up from just 26 in 2014.

Academies can be rebrokered for a number of reasons, but the most common is low performance and it is deemed that the school would perform better under a different trust.

Ofsted says that historical information about a school can be found on the watchdog’s website under a “related providers” tab.

However, when Schools Week looked for Ofsted records for ten rebrokered academies, two did not have this tab available.

Becky Francis, the co-author of Chain Effects, told Schools Week the government needed to “urgently” find ways to “monitor really tightly those schools that have been rebrokered to make sure they are rebrokered with successful MATs”.

She added regional schools commissioners should be “looking very closely” at MATs that have had academies removed before handing more schools to them.

Schools Week revealed last month that the country’s largest academy chain, Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), was preparing to sponsor new schools, despite two of its schools being rebrokered this year.

Eight of the trust’s schools were rebrokered between December 2014 and April 2015 after government intervention.

Ten academies under the E-ACT trust were rebrokered in 2014 after Ofsted inspectors raised concerns over performance.

The Sutton Trust report ranked 48 established trusts based on the results of their disadvantaged pupils. It found E-ACT was ranked ninth, an improvement of nine places from last year. AET was ranked 15th this year, compared with 27th in 2016.

The report only includes trusts that have two sponsored academies, and which have operated at least three academies for at least three years.
But academy leaders have previously said the three-year respite gives a new trust time to put in place foundations for improvement.

Sir Steve Lancashire, chief executive of REAch2, said last year that regional schools commissioners must provide close monitoring of rebrokered schools, with the transferring academy to be “at least good by the time Ofsted inspect at the three-year point”.

An Ofsted spokesperson said the watchdog has the right to inspect a school at any time if it has concerns, regardless of its status.

He added that first inspection of new schools can take place within three years of opening, but in most instances, “we will not select new schools for a first inspection until they are in their third year of operation”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education added: “The performance history and past Ofsted reports of all schools remains publicly available.

“When academies are treated as new schools they must be given a realistic amount of time for their new leadership team to make the required improvements.”

They added that regional schools commissioners will “constantly monitor and challenge” performance in rebrokered academies.