‘Gross intellectual snobbery’ – former Ofsted strategy chief hits back at academy CEOs

Claims by leading academy bosses that Ofsted’s new inspection regime favours middle-class pupils have been dismissed as “nonsense” by the watchdog’s former strategy chief.

Luke Tryl, who served as Ofsted’s director of corporate strategy until last May, defended Ofsted’s “long overdue” action to clamp down on “gaming” by academy trusts, and accused leaders Sir Dan Moynihan and Martyn Oliver of “gross intellectual snobbery”.

In an interview with The Times last week, the two CEOs claimed the increased curriculum focus in Ofsted’s new inspections will “damage outcomes for disadvantaged children”.

The intervention follows several Schools Week investigations revealing how schools were rapped for shortening key stage 3. It’s led to scores of schools abandoning three-year GCSEs – including Harris.

Ofsted started inspections based on its new framework last September.

Moynihan, the leader of the Harris Federation chain and England’s best-paid academy boss, claimed it was a “middle-class framework for middle-class kids” and said the “pendulum has swung too far”.

“It is the SW1 approach to education and in a few years’ time will have damaged the outcomes for disadvantaged children.”

Oliver, chief executive of Outwood Grange Academies Trust, said inspectors on the ground were “taking a far too simplistic a view on when GCSE teaching should begin”.

“Many of the children in our schools need a three-year run up,” he argued.

But in a thread on Twitter, Tryl,  now a director at lobbyists Public First, praised Ofsted for “long overdue steps to stop academy chains gaming and inflating their league table positions by denying disadvantaged kids a whole year of studying arts, history, geography and languages”.

“The argument that kids from disadvantaged backgrounds shouldn’t get the same opportunities to study these subjects is a form of gross intellectual snobbery I thought was one the decline in our education system. Sadly not,” he added.

“And the truth is there are more the a handful of seemingly high performing schools have got their results off the back of hollowing out the curriculum, spending a whole year not teaching new things but teaching ‘exam technique’.

“That leaves kids from disadvantaged backgrounds in a far worse position when it comes to university and the workplace, because they simply haven’t been taught as much, again because some of their schools have prioritised their league table positions over actual teaching.”

But Nick Soar, executive principal at Harris Academy St Johns Wood and Harris academy Tottenham, said Tryl’s comments “add little to the debate”.

“To accuse us of ‘gross intellectual snobbery’, when we are one of the few schools groups in the country achieving above average outcomes for disadvantaged children, is farcical.

“As for offering a ‘hollowed out curriculum’, the Federation has had six inspections in the past three months and no such thing was found. Despite our disadvantaged intake, the EBacc entry rate at Harris is 1.6 times the national average, with more than twice the proportion of students at Harris going to Russell Group universities than elsewhere across the country.”

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  1. It is not surprising the Harris Federation has objected to this. Perhaps Ofsted would also like to start looking at the number of pupils “disappear” or are “off rolled” by academy trusts in the 2 years before GCSE and, when an academy trust takes over a school, how many of the pupils of the predecessor school have mysteriously disappeared. Why is it that value added scores of pupils who have spent their whole time at the school given more weight?

  2. Just checked DfE’s school performance tables. They show two inspections at Harris academies in the last three months, not six, and one was a primary school. The tables, could, of course, be not up-to-date, but the one for the secondary academy, Falconwood, said:

    ‘Falconwood pupils began their GCSE courses in Year 9. Leaders have redesigned the curriculum in Years 7 to 9 so that pupils study a wide range of subjects over the whole of key stage 3. Currently, there remain limited opportunities for pupils to study some subjects, for example music and computer science, in the same depth as other subjects after Year 8.’

    Inspectors also said year 11 pupils in 2017/18 had taken the ESOL exam designed for non-native speakers. This dubious practice had now been abandoned.