Ministers urged to add ‘depth’ to trust accountability assessments

Leaders sound caution over using 'quantitative measures' to compare chains

Leaders sound caution over using 'quantitative measures' to compare chains

An academy trust boss has warned that ministers “need to understand the limits” of metrics when using them to assess chains that have taken on troubled schools.  

The boss of The Thinking Schools Academy Trust, Stuart Gardner, urged caution when using “quantitative measures” to compare chains during a session at this year’s Festival of Education on Thursday.  

This came after new commissioning data published on the same day revealed how multi-academy trust (MAT) expansion bids will be decided by regional directors using “in-depth data” on school improvement and inclusivity.   

But Gardner pointed to how his chain’s decision to take on several schools meant “the debt we’ve taken on over the last 10 years is close to £2 million, of which we paid back £1 million”. 

“Then the ESFA wrote a letter saying why are your reserves up by £x. They knew we took on schools who were financial basket cases because they asked us to do it.

“Let’s have depth [to quantitative measures], so we really understand the trust when we are comparing levels of accountabilities.”

Trust quality descriptors ‘woolly’

This came after Jenna Julius, of the National Foundation for Educational Research, argued during the session that the Department for Education’s trust quality descriptors are “woolly”. 

She said the introduction of performance measures would add greater levels of “robustness” and transparency to the system. 

The descriptors were published by the Department for Education three months ago as it attempted to provide a formal definition of trust strength based around five “pillars”. Ministers said these would help assess trusts’ “potential for growth”.

The five pillars of the descriptions are: high-quality and inclusive leadership; school improvement; workforce; finance and operations; and governance and leadership.

The session took place just a few hours after the government published its new commissioning guidance setting out how regional directors will attempt to assess “strategic need” and trust quality before ruling on academisation plans (see page 10).

The document stated that evidence for each pillar will be broken down into “headline metrics” – drawn from MAT performance tables – which will then be used to “form a hypothesis about a trust’s quality”. 

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