Academies

Ofsted praises MAT’s ‘life-changing improvements’ after damning report

Northern Education Trust becomes first MAT for seven years to have a second Ofsted summary evaluation

Northern Education Trust becomes first MAT for seven years to have a second Ofsted summary evaluation

19 Apr 2023, 14:01

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A multi-academy trust that previously failed to give children “the education they deserve” has made “monumental and life-changing” improvements, Ofsted inspectors said.

Northern Education Trust has become the first MAT in seven years to have been assessed for the second time by the watchdog.

Leaders were told in a summary evaluation in 2017 – which took place after inspectors raised “concerns” about the trust – the chain had “failed to secure urgent and necessary improvements in too many of its schools”.

But in an evaluation due to be published this week, Ofsted said that leaders and trustees had “transformed how the trust operates. This has transformed the schools in the trust and the experiences and life chances of the pupils who attend them.”

Inspectors noted “schools that have recently joined the trust have undergone
monumental improvements that are life-changing for pupils and staff”.

Of the trust’s 22 schools, based across the north of England, six are ‘outstanding’ and 15 ‘good’. One school has yet to be inspected since joining.

Ten of the schools had never before been rated ‘good’ or better by Ofsted.

Ofsted said many schools serve communities in high levels of deprivation. Nearly half of the trust’s pupils are eligible for pupil premium funding, compared to a quarter nationally.

Trust seen ‘as one school’

Ofsted praised how leaders “see the trust as ‘one school over many sites’. There is no real distinction between trust leaders and school leaders.

“In 2017, trust leaders needed to secure improvements quickly, and many ways of working across the trust were prescribed.”

The report said the trust employs an “80:20” model across its sites. This works with leaders using “the ’80’ for consistent trust strategies such as expectations for learning, curriculum and attendance policies”.

Headteachers “ensure these methods work for their school community by devising
local ‘20’ variations”. When these tweaks “are successful, leaders find out why and, sometimes, incorporate them into the ‘80’ that” everyone uses.

Ofsted also said “reading runs through the curriculum like letters through a stick of rock”.

‘Behaviour was at times unsafe’

Trust chief executive Rob Tarn joined when the previous summary was being published. He said it was “highly critical and used devastating language. Behaviour was at times unsafe at some schools.

Inspectors noted six years ago Northern Education’s pupils did “not receive the quality of education they deserve” and that the achievement of disadvantaged youngsters was “especially poor”.

They also stated that the £5.8 million of additional government cash the trust’s academies received the year before to support poorer children “had little tangible impact on achievement”.

Eight schools were “requires improvement” and four were deemed “inadequate”.

Following his appointment, Tarn said schools were revamped with “a list as long as your arm of the things we’d done”. This included new marking, assessment and reporting systems within the first half-term.

“When there’s a lot of underperformance it’s probably a bit easier to make changes as it’s clear to everyone what has been tried hasn’t worked from an educational perspective,” he added.

That included “little things to send the message the schools weren’t standalone and are part of a MAT.

“There’s lots of talk in the sector about autonomy. What this latest evaluation does is say ‘there’s a group of schools that historically never performed well, everyone believes in the same vision, the kids’ outcomes are exceptional, so why’s it not OK to think of it as one school over many sites?’”

Just two other trusts have received more than one summary evaluation – which used to be known as “focussed inspections”.

Academies Enterprise was visited by the watchdog in 2014 and 2016.

Meanwhile, the School Partnership Trust – which is now known as Delta Academies – had the last of its two inspections eight years ago.

Seven Northern schools were inspected as party of the Ofsted evaluation between March last year and January. Ofsted then visited the trust last month and visited nine schools that had not been inspected as part of the evaluation.

Northern had led a pilot attendance hub to help schools improve absence rates, a model which is now being rolled out across the country.

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