MATs should be inspected, but it isn’t going to happen any time soon

23 Jul 2019, 5:00

With more than half of all pupils now educated in academies it is only logical that multi academy trusts (MATs), which play such a pivotal role in the system, should be subject to the rigours of Ofsted, writes Frank Norris.

Schools, colleges and local authorities are all inspected so it does not make sense that MATs are exempt from the process, especially as they have taken on a number of the functions previously performed by LAs and are legally responsible for the academies under their wing.

There is a compelling case for MATs to be independently inspected

As a former senior inspector, I am fully supportive of Ofsted and the culture of improvement that it inspires and I am firmly in the camp that believes that it has done so much to enhance the quality of education in this country. I have made this point publicly over the years so my general view hasn’t changed.

From my position as the director of one of the country’s fastest-growing MATs (the Co-op now has 23 schools and colleges across northern England) I believe we have nothing to hide and would welcome a visit by Ofsted.

I am convinced that a competent, well experienced and knowledgeable inspection team could add real value and help us to identify areas where we could improve further.

That’s why I welcome the debate kicked off recently by Amanda Spielman following the publication of Ofsted’s research into MATs. However, as the chief inspector suggests, the DfE’s lack of appetite for a full blown inspection regime means a proper Ofsted is not coming to a MAT near you very soon.

Whilst the idea there should be a quality framework for MATs to self-assess themselves against is better than no inspection at all, it falls well short of the fully independent assessment that everyone else in education is subjected to.

To deliver a robust, credible and effective MAT inspection framework requires sufficient, competent and experienced senior HMI to create it.

Despite claims that the inspectorate has this for MATs, I truly wonder whether this is the case.

Read more: Ofsted concerned over lack of accountability and self-evaluation in MATs

In the past, the inspectorate has controlled the essence of any changes to its Frameworks and has carefully consulted on the revisions it wants to introduce. I applaud their efforts for the new schools framework but this was familiar territory.

It is my belief that Ofsted would need to engage much more openly with MATs if they were to create the robust and challenging inspection I would like to see introduced.

Sadly, over time, my view on the use of part-time practitioners as inspectors has been severely tested.

I have personally experienced the benefits of full-time inspection activity across a range of settings as an HMI for 11 years. To ensure inspections of MATs don’t fall at their first few hurdles, Ofsted needs to second into its ranks senior colleagues from MATs who have the insight, knowledge and skills to look beyond the flannel and get right to the heart of any trust when constructing the framework.

With over two-thirds of secondaries and around a quarter of primaries now academies and more than three-quarters of these part of a MAT with at least two academies there is a compelling case for them to be independently inspected but sadly unless the inspectorate is given more resources for the task or it amends the frequency of inspection (I would welcome this for schools by the way) this feels a little like an ambition that might not see the light of day.

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