A multi-academy trust (MAT) has received three warning notices in two months over ‘inadequate’ schools, sparking fresh calls for Ofsted to inspect whole trusts.
The watchdog cannot inspect MATs even when several schools receive poor ratings, despite almost a decade of pressure for it to be handed new powers.
Covid has also derailed inspectors’ plans for 12 less formal “summary evaluations” of MATs this term, with a spokesperson confirming it will only do “one or two”.
Landewednack Community Primary School, Wendron Church of England Primary School and Crowan Primary School were ranked ‘inadequate’ late last year. All three are in Cornwall.
The Southerly Point Co-operative MAT, which runs the schools, received termination warning notices for the three in December and January.
But warning notices do not always trigger rebrokering, with trusts able to argue to regional school commissioners (RSCs) to keep schools.
Nor do they trigger a formal examination of trusts’ affairs as a whole by either Ofsted or RSCs.
‘More evidence for Ofsted powers’
Francesca Fraser (pictured), a senior researcher at the think tank Onward, said questions about governance must be asked in such situations.
It was “difficult to see these as isolated incidents” and was “further evidence of the need for Ofsted to have additional powers to inspect trusts, to spot issues in MATs much earlier and ensure proper accountability to parents and children”.
Wendron’s notice claimed trustees did not know the school well enough, Landewednack’s said monitoring and accountability systems were “flawed”, and Crowan’s highlighted “weak external challenge”.
The 19-school Southerly Point opened with 15 schools from scratch in June 2017. Another four joined in September 2018.
A trust spokesperson said external expertise would support school improvement and leadership. A new chair and other trustees had been appointed.
“We are having positive discussions with the RSC about these schools so they provide the best possible education for their pupils.”
A DfE spokesperson said Southerly Point had been asked to set out improvement plans and assisted to bring in help.
“We are working closely with the trust on next steps to make sure rapid and sustained improvement is made.”
Renewed calls for change
Meanwhile, ministers have resisted pressure from Ofsted for MAT inspection powers.
The education select committee demanded reform in 2013. Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector, warned in 2019 that recent academy failures showed how Ofsted’s inability to inspect trusts presented “very real risks”.
Jonathan Gullis, the Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, also began trying to push a reform bill through parliament last September, calling the issue a “loophole” that risked leaving trusts “unaccountable”.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “We would still like there to be more accountability for the decisions taken at MAT level, including around the necessary interventions when there are failures.“
Ofsted “summary evaluations” of MATs were introduced in 2018. But they are only done with trust consent, offer no gradings, do not cover every trust and do not target those causing concern.
Sam Freedman, a former government adviser, said assessing trust capacity was “very different from checking the quality of a school”.