Ofsted’s annual report 2019: MATs more focused on back-office than curriculum, and 5 more findings


Ofsted has published its annual report for 2019, with key topics including illegal schools, off-rolling and the standards of exempt schools.

The inspectorate has also hit back at criticisms of its new framework, but that’s covered in detail here.

Here are six things you need to know.


1. Pupils with low prior attainment ‘less likely’ to access high quality education

The report said that there is a “clear relationship” between the median progress 8 scores of secondary schools and inspection grades. The median progress 8 score for ‘outstanding’ schools is +0.5, compared with -0.6 for ‘inadequate’ schools.

Ofsted found that pupils with low prior attainment make much stronger progress in schools judged ‘outstanding’, but that pupils with low prior attainment are also “less likely to attend these schools than all other pupils nationally”.

“This means that pupils low prior attainment are less likely to have access to the highest quality education.”

In November, Schools Week published analysis of the first inspections published under the new framework, which was introduced in September. The data suggested that schools with more challenging intakes were still disadvantaged under the new framework. A month later, Ofsted admitted that schools with more pupils from deprived backgrounds are less likely to be judged ‘good’.


2. MATs more focused on back-office functions than curriculum

Ofsted has carried out seven MAT summary evaluations since December 2018, which it says have revealed that academy trusts are more likely to focus on back-office functions than curriculum design – “despite the clear value that can be added there”.

It also had concerns that some trusts are not taking enough action to improve performance in ‘inadequate’ schools and that, because trusts do not receive a formal grade from a summary evaluation, the trusts concerned “may not take effective action based on our assessment of these problems”. The most recent summary evaluation, published last week, criticised financial management at the Heath Family (North West) academy trust.

In July, Ofsted criticised “weak” self-evaluation in academy trusts and called on the DfE to publish a quality framework to help trusts assess their impact on education.

It also noted that MATs are creating data workload for schools, with “too many” people saying their trust requires “extensive data collection and analysis, beyond what is valuable for monitoring and improving the quality of education”.

The DfE agreed to reduce school data collection in local authorities back in November 2018, but stopped short of telling academy trusts to do the same.


3. Exempt schools decline, with primaries hardest hit

There are now more than 1,000 schools that have not had a full inspection for at least a decade after being rated ‘outstanding’. A quarter of these are academies, that have not been inspected since becoming an academy and inherited their exemption from the LA school they replaced.

The DfE has announced its intention to remove the exemption entirely.

Last year, Ofsted inspected 390 of the 3,810 schools that were exempt at the start of the year, compared to 150 the year before. Of these, just 16 per cent remained ‘outstanding’ while 56 per cent declined to ‘good’, 23 per cent to ‘requires improvement’ and five per cent to ‘inadequate’.

Exempt primary schools were hardest hit, with 87 per cent declining compared to 76 per cent of secondary schools. Ofsted said these findings “are a significant concern”.

Schools Week analysis in June found dozens of Church of England primary schools had fallen from ‘outstanding’ to ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.


4. Independent schools still lag behind state schools 

Although inspection outcomes for independent schools have improved, with three quarters judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by August 2019, they remain weaker than outcomes in the state sector. One in 10 independent schools is judged ‘inadequate’ and nearly a fifth are not meeting the independent school standards, which they are legally required to meet.

Schools Week investigation in December found a steep rise in the number of warning notices issued to private schools last year.

Independent faith schools have “considerably weaker” outcomes than non-faith independent schools. Just 61 per cent were judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ at their most recent inspection, compared with 80 per cent of non-faith independent schools and 88 per cent of state-funded faith schools.

Just 39 per cent of Jewish schools were ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, compared with 76 per cent of Christian schools and 61 per cent of Muslim schools. Jewish schools are nearly four times as likely to be ‘inadequate’ than Christian schools (34 per cent compared to nine per cent). Jewish school and community leaders have repeatedly voiced concerns about Ofsted’s approach to the religious education they offer, urging the inspectorate to show more “respect”. However, chief inspector Amanda Spielman has denied Ofsted has a “secular agenda”.

Last year, Ofsted was granted special powers to inspect all Steiner schools after Spielman warned of “deeply concerning” failures and demanded an investigation into whether the Steiner philosophy was contributing to them. All but one of the 23 independent Steiner schools have been inspected since June 2018. Five were ‘good’, seven ‘requires improvement’ and 10 ‘inadequate’.


5. Stuck schools pilot in the works

Ofsted has inspected nearly 190 stuck schools since September 2018 and is working with the DfE to establish how it can “diagnose in more detail, and work with those responsible for school improvement more closely, to improve the quality of education that these schools are providing”.

Earlier this month, the inspectorate said it wanted to run “longer, deeper” inspections with the aim of “not passing judgement but of enabling support” to improve stuck schools.

The report said Ofsted is looking to pilot its new approach in a small number of schools this spring, with a view to reaching a larger number in 2020-21.

As of August 2019 there are 415 stuck schools (2 per cent of all schools), down from 485 at the end of August 2018. Eight-six per cent of stuck schools are currently academies, and 93 per cent of all stuck schools have been judged ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ for 10 years or more.


6. Ofsted wants more power to go after illegal schools

The inspectorate has warned its “blindspots” when it comes to unregistered schools are caused by “weak legislation, weak powers and weak enforcement”.

It highlighted the case of the Ambassadors High School in Streatham, south London, whose proprietors were convicted of running an illegal school in September 2019 but told the presiding magistrate they “intended to continue operating”.

“This highlights the need for greater enforcement powers to prevent those convicted from running these or other educational institutions.”

Ofsted’s illegal school taskforce has received 640 referrals of suspected illegal schools since January 2016, and inspected over 290 settings. Eighty-three have received warning notices, and three prosecutions have taken place to date. In November, Ofsted’s national director of education Sean Harford revealed that two of these three successfully prosecuted institutions opened again a week later.

The inspectorate said it supports the DfE’s plans for a register of children not in school as this will make it “easier” to recognise unregistered education settings.

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


  1. One thing that struck me was that RSCs have the discretion to cancel an academy order if LA schools previously judged outstanding (and therefore subject to a compulsory academy order) improve before converting. How many have actually exercised this discretion or have continued with conversion even against parental opposition?

  2. Mark Watson

    I always find it amusing that whenever there’s a story in SchoolsWeek about Ofsted the comments are always along the line of how they don’t know what they’re doing, inspections are a snap-shot that don’t show the whole picture, the criteria used for evaluation aren’t appropriate etc.

    However when Osfted says something critical about academy trusts all of the above is forgotten …

    Of course the headline for this story is plucked from the depths with no hint of context. Ofsted seems to have inspected 7 MATs, out of a total of at least 1,170 (according to BESA). That’s 0.6% of MATs. Surely not enough to come out with any consistent analysis of the sector.

    To put that into context, it would be the same as Ofsted inspecting 20 secondary schools and then trying to make general pronouncements on how all secondary schools in England operate.

    But are the 7 MATs inspected by Ofsted a random cross-section of MATs, or ones like Heath Family (North West) academy trust which was presumably been inspected because it was flagged up as a ‘problem MAT’. If this was the case then to carry on with my analogy, it’s like Ofsted inspecting the 20 worst-performing and biggest problem secondary schools and then trying to make general pronouncements on how all secondary schools in England operate.

    Still, lets not let all that ‘detail stuff’ get in the way of a good old-fashioned SchoolsWeek academy bashing!

    • I share your concerns about small sample size. It’s something the DfE does constantly when puffing the superiority of free schools or bashing tiny local authorities such as Knowsley which have very few secondary schools.