An academy trust previously barred from taking on any more schools has been told by Ofsted that its improvement is variable.

CfBT multi-academy trust received a focused inspection in May, but the report was only released today. Of the four schools inspected: two were outstanding, one good and another went into special measures.

The trust, which runs 19 schools, was described in the report as having taken on “too many academies too quickly”. Its expansion was said to lack strategy and, as a result, “standards are too low”.

But Chris Tweedale, chief executive of CfBT Schools Trust, speaking exclusively to Schools Week, said that the quick increase in the number of schools was a product of the government’s then-policy of encouraging academy sponsorship.

“In the early days it was ‘quantity, quantity, quantity’ and then Lord Nash came into the department and it changed overnight to ‘quality, quality, quality’.”

Mr Tweedale was appointed last year, after the trust was told it must “pause” its expansion. The condition has since been lifted.

“I’m not critical of how the trust was set up, because that was the policy framework at the time, but there is a new framework now, and I think we are doing a good job.”

The inspection follows evaluations of several other large trusts, most recently the Oasis academy trust, which raised concerns about the methodology Ofsted used in coming to its judgments. Unlike local authority inspections, there is no agreed criteria and no grades are given.

“It would certainly help everybody to have clarity about the framework,” Mr Tweedale said. “It would make it easier for local education authorities, trusts, heads, parents – everyone.

“I don’t feel strongly about grading…but if they were going to grade I’d say OK, let’s have two: one grade for now, and one for capacity to improve.”

Ofsted’s letter on CfBT said that although achievement in their primary year groups were “broadly in line” with national figures last year, key stage 4 standards were “well below the national average”.

But it also accepted that Mr Tweedale had “quickly recognised the limitations of the team to meet the varied needs of all academies across the trust” and that the trust had now put in place several programmes to improve its schools.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “We are confident that our recent inspections of multi-academy trusts (MATs) have been carried out in accordance with the arrangements agreed in the exchange of letters between the secretary of state and the chief inspector earlier this year.

“As with all of our inspection arrangements, we will continue to implement learning and look at ways we can strengthen and improve our inspection arrangements for MATs.”


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