Ofsted plans MAT inspection changes from 2018

Ofsted wants to change the way it inspects multi-academy trusts (MATs) from September 2018, according to a senior inspector.

Stephen McMullan told the annual conference of the National Co-ordinators of Governor Services in Grantham today that the watchdog was “considering” new ways of inspecting and evaluating MATs. These changes could be implemented as soon as next year.

At the moment, Ofsted can only undertake “focused inspections”, which involve visiting a handful of a MAT’s schools and culminate in a letter to the trust.

But Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman has this week demanded increased powers to inspect MATs in their their entirety, claiming the current system only gives inspectors a “limited” view.

Spielman’s predecessor Sir Michael Wilshaw also campaigned for the power to inspect the central services of trusts, as well as their schools.

Writing to former education secretary Nicky Morgan in 2016, he reported that Ofsted’s focused inspections of MATs revealed “serious weaknesses that were contributing to poor progress and outcomes for too many pupils, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

He criticised MATs for a “lack of leadership capacity” and “ineffective monitoring”, adding: “If we are to improve national standards in an increasingly autonomous system, much more needs to be done to reduce the variation in standards between the best and the worst academy trusts.”

The prospect of more comprehensive inspections of MATs was welcomed by academy accountability campaigner Janet Downs, from the Local Schools Network, who believes MATs should be subject to the same rules as councils.

“Ofsted does inspect local authorities’ school improvement programmes, and their special needs provision overall, so MATs should be the same,” she said.

But others have warned that Ofsted may face issues with resources and a clash with the regional schools commissioners if it is granted more powers over MATs.

In a recent blog, Robert Hill, a former policy adviser to Tony Blair, warned that Ofsted’s diminished funding meant resources for inspection were “now very definitely finite”.

“Any formal inspection role for Ofsted would be bound to put the relationship between the respective RSC and Ofsted functions under intense scrutiny,” he added.