Academy trust with ‘very small’ schools warned over ‘limited capacity’ for improvement

A church-led academy trust in Leicester has been warned it has “limited capacity” to improve its schools because many of them are “very small”.

Ofsted said the Diocese of Leicester Academies Trust is not improving pupil outcomes fast enough, and has failed to establish a “clear purpose and direction” for its schools, after a focused inspection of six of its schools.

Pupils’ outcomes at the trust are improving, but they are not doing so quickly enough to bring them into line with national averages, Ofsted said, although inspectors acknowledged that three schools had actually improved since they joined the chain.

The watchdog visited six of the trust’s academies in November 2017. It found that the overall effectiveness of two schools had declined since they joined the trust. However, three schools had improved since they joined, and the chain’s sole ‘outstanding’-rated school remained top-rated.

Overall, of the trust’s 14 schools, one is ‘outstanding’, five are ‘good’, five ‘require improvement’ and three have not been inspected since they joined the trust.

Many of the trust’s schools are very small, which has funding implications and has limited the trust’s capacity for school improvement, Ofsted said.

One example of this was the trust’s “well-intentioned but ineffective” academy performance reviews at the start of each academic year. These clarify the position of the academy, but “lack the detail and precision necessary to bring about sustainable school improvement”, inspectors said.

Analysis of the expansion of multi academy trusts by Schools Week in September found that diocesan trusts in particular show strong commitment to taking in local schools, particularly smaller primaries, which can influence the balance of school sizes within the trust and impact on sustainability.

However, Ofsted found that the current leaders of the Diocese of Leicester Academies Trust have “brought about a change in culture”, and “established the means by which academies are able to work more collaboratively and support school improvement more effectively”. Changes in leadership at the trust have led to “an increased impetus of school improvement activity”, which has led to improvements in the quality of teaching and pupils’ outcomes.

The effectiveness of the trust’s governance arrangements was found to be “inconsistent”. In particular, there is a “lack of connection” between local governing bodies and the trust’s directors, although the recent appointment of a governance support officer is improving the situation.

Pupils’ achievement at key stage 2 has not improved quickly enough, and has declined in some areas, inspectors said. The trust must now improve both the progress and attainment of pupils by the end of key stage 2, particularly among disadvantaged pupils. Ofsted also called on the trust to improve attendance among disadvantaged pupils and reduce the proportion of those who are persistently absent from school.

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