David Ross Education Trust told to improve after Ofsted visits 13 schools

A large academy trust has been told to improve pupil progress, just months after the resignations of several of its leaders, including the former education secretary David Blunkett.

Ofsted has released the outcome of a “focused inspection” of 13 schools run by the David Ross Education Trust.

Inspectors visited the schools in September, rating two ‘inadequate’ and five ‘requires improvement’. Six were rated ‘good’.

The trust has been operating for 10 years. After this time, too many pupils are underachieving by the end of key stages 2 and 4

It means that overall, four of the trust’s 34 academies are ‘outstanding’, 20 are ‘good’, seven are ‘requires improvement’ and two are ‘inadequate’. One academy is yet to be inspected.

The trust has had an eventful year. Its chair, Lord Blunkett, resigned in March, along with its chief executive Wendy Marshall and two other leaders.

The trust then admitted it had financial challenges and began a consultation on its proposals to cut up to 40 support staff jobs across its schools.

Now it has been warned that too many pupils are underachieving by the end of key stages 2 and 4, and its headline attainment is below national averages in both stages.

Trustees have not held directors and leaders to account with “sufficient rigour” in the past, the report said, while inspectors warned the chain did not have clear enough structures in place to enable quick intervention in struggling schools.

However, Ofsted acknowledged recent efforts to rectify these problems, and praised “successful” improvement in many of the trust’s academies. Of the trust’s 34 schools, 17 have seen their overall effectiveness improve since they joined, while two have declined.

Other issues are highlighted, such as a lack of clear arrangements for governance. Some members of local governing bodies “do not understand that their role is not the same as that of a governor in a maintained school”.

Ofsted has made six recommendations

  1. Improve the progress that pupils, including those who are disadvantaged,
    by the end of key stage 2 and key stage 4.
  2. Systematically improve pupils’ rates of attendance and reduce the persistent
    absence of pupils eligible for free school meals.
  3. Ensure the trust acts more swiftly when it identifies that an academy is at risk of
    underachieving, deploying high-quality support to secure sustainable
    improvement.
  4. Ensure the structures, roles and responsibilities of governance are clearly
    understood by all stakeholders to enable effective accountability.
  5. Ensure that trustees, directors and leaders at all levels are held to account for
    their role in improving outcomes for pupils.
  6. Implement an effective strategy to recruit high-quality staff, especially where
    individual headteachers have particular difficulties with recruitment.

David Ross, the billionaire Carphone Warehouse founder and Conservative Party donor who sponsors the trust, is now its chair of trustees, and a new chief executive, Rowena Hackwood, was appointed in May.

A trust spokesperson said Ofsted’s recommendations were being “systematically addressed”, and pointed out that inspectors had acknowledged “many of the positive actions taken and changes being made under the direction of the trust’s new leadership team”.