Ofsted publishes first academy trust 'summary evaluation'

The first ever summary evaluation of a multi-academy trust by Ofsted has been published, ushering in a long-awaited new inspection process for chains.

Inspectors have issued a glowing report about Truro and Penwith Academy Trust, which runs 25 schools in Cornwall.

It is the first report on a MAT to be published under the inspectorate’s new regime, which sees them assess the central functions of a chain and meet with senior leaders, rather than just looking at some of their schools.

I’m pleased to see that the hard work of TPAT trustees, staff and the wider community are recognised in this evaluation

Ofsted inspected six of the trust’s schools, and found five remained ‘good’, while one was downgraded to a ‘requires improvement’ rating. Inspectors also held discussions with senior staff at trust HQ, along with leaders and teachers in 10 schools about the support they receive.

Inspectors scrutinised “a range of relevant trust documentation, including strategic plans, case studies from individual schools, pupils’ achievement information, minutes of meetings, information about partnership working, and safeguarding information”.

The move to new summary evaluations, first revealed by Schools Week, was made in December as a compromise between Ofsted and the government. The inspectorate wants powers to carry out full inspections of trusts’ head offices, but education secretary Damian Hinds wants to avoid “undue burdens” on trusts.

The evaluations replaced focused inspections, which involved batch inspections of a number of schools in a trust. Critics of the old system said this did not adequately assess the way trusts support their schools.

Inspectors found that Truro and Penwith Academy Trust had “an unwavering focus on improving the life chances of all children and young people across the MAT”, and praised a “strong culture of respect for school leaders ensures they engage positively with all the trust’s activities”.

Inspectors remarked the trust’s ethos “reflects a strong commitment to collaboration and cooperation between its schools”.

“On a day-to-day basis, headteachers feel supported and empowered. Schools want to join the trust because of its reputation for high-quality support that builds on strengths and improves weaknesses.”

Only a few of the main findings issued by Ofsted were negative in tone. Attendance of pupils across the trust “remains a challenge”, Ofsted said, adding that “strong practice” to ensure poorer pupils don’t fall behind “has yet to impact on disadvantaged pupils across the trust”.

Inspectors also noted that “a few schools do not understand their part in the trust’s culture of high expectations”, and the number of children achieving a good level of development by the end of reception is “below the national average”.

Bradley Simmons, Ofsted’s regional director for the south west of England, said: “Leaders of the trust understand its strengths and weaknesses and they target improvement activity where it is needed. TPAT has a culture of high expectations, and these findings indicate that the trust is performing well and remains focused on improving children and young people’s life chances.”

In order to improve further, the trust has been urged to ensure strategies for breaking down learning barriers for poorer pupils are “more effective”, and “further embed” trust improvement strategies for secondary schools to quicken improvement.