Academy trusts need “more support and capacity building” rather than Ofsted inspections, the academies minister said today.
Explaining more about the government’s decision not to push ahead with MAT inspections, Barran added ministers thought it would not be “a helpful thing to do at this point”.
The government’s recent regulatory and commissioning review did not include plans to inspect trusts, despite its terms of reference stating it would look at trust-level inspection.
At present, Ofsted carries out summary evaluations of trusts by batch-inspecting some of their schools.
Speaking at the Schools and Academies Show this morning, Barran said ministers “felt we need to put in more support and more capacity building because so many trusts are young and not yet fully mature”.
“[We] weren’t sure it was really a helpful thing to do at this point”.
Barran added that the review’s expert advisory group had also warned ministers not to “introduce MAT inspections without thinking about school inspection”.
“Because to layer one thing on another just creates a huge burden – so that’s literally where we are at in our thinking.”
An Ofsted report last month found the current inspection model does not hold MATs “sufficiently accountable” or attribute enough credit to their work.
While Barran said “it’s absolutely not on the agenda for either Nick Gibb (schools minister) or I and we’ve talked about it a lot”, she said that was “not to exclude it sometime down the track”.
MAT descriptors ‘won’t be algorithm’
As part of the academies commissioning review, the government pledged to introduce a new, “more transparent” system of decision making over school sponsorship, conversion and trust mergers.
Barran wants an approach that is “as transparent as possible… Because what we’ve heard from all of you was it felt like it was at best a black box, and at worst a kind of list of the friends of the regional director.
“And I think we would say that’s not what it feels like on our side of the fence. But if that’s what it feels like on the other side of the fence, we have to address that.”
Government has published new quality descriptors for trusts, which will be used to help inform commissioning decisions.
But Barran today insisted the new approach to commissioning would not equate to “a kind of algorithm that sends people to the top or the bottom”.
“It’s to push us to make sure we are always objective in our decisions and that it pushes us to ask good questions before we make decisions.
“In no place in the framework does achieving a quantitative metric mean, you know, pass [go], earn £200, get a new school.”
She acknowledged there was a “huge amount of concern” about the government’s plans, but said they would “help us ask questions and understand in a more nuanced way”.
‘Friendlier’ trust handbook, but more capital duties
Barran said today that “overall you will see a slimmer, shorter and friendlier handbook. I think it will be significant change this year, more change next year. There’s some things we just can’t implement quickly enough.”
But she said there would be new things too, “principally around school capital and the responsibility of responsible bodies around that and where we felt there wasn’t enough in there.”
Barran reportedly told an attendee after the session that the handbook is due in July. Last year’s was published just days before the start of the new academic year.