Sir Michael Wilshaw: Multi-academy trusts have developed same weaknesses as worst-performing councils

Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has claimed today that multi-academy trusts have “manifested the same weaknesses” as the worst-performing local authorities and “offered the same excuses”.

In an explosive letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan today, Sir Michael said he has “great concern” about the performance of seven large multi-academy trusts (MAT) that were inspected by Ofsted.

He said the findings of the focused inspections were “worrying” and highlighted “serious weaknesses”. Trusts named in the letter included E-ACT, School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA) and Academies Enterprise Trust – the country’s largest MAT with 67 schools.

He claimed one chief executive – who he did not name – blamed parents for pupils’ poor attendance that was affecting their performance.

His comments will come as a blow to the government as it continues its drive towards a fully-academised system.

Sir Michael said: “There has been much criticism in the past of local authorities failing to take swift action with struggling schools.

“Given the impetus of the academies programme to bring about rapid improvement, it is of great concern that we are not seeing this in these seven MATs and that, in some cases, we have even seen decline.”

He said many of the inspected trusts were failing their poorest children – despite the academies movement initially being established to improve the performance of disadvantaged pupils.

AET and SPTA were highlighted, citing a gap of 25 percentage point gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers at level 4 and above. The national average is 17 percentage points.

He then attacked the pay of trust chief executives, saying “some do not appear to be commensurate with the level of performance of their trusts or constituent academies”.

He said the average pay of the seven trusts’ chiefs was higher than that of the prime minister’s £140,000.

Trusts are also holding “very large cash reserves”, Sir Michael said, totalling £111 million as of August last year. He added some are spending money on expensive consultants – at least £8.5 million in 2014/15 alone.

Sir Michael took a final swipe over the geographic spread of schools in some academies, adding: “It is clear that, with such a vast spread of diverse provision, these particular trusts are still struggling to monitor performance effectively.”

He added: “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 worst academy trusts.”

The Department for Education said the report focused on seven chains that had been identified as “causing the most concern”. A spokesperson said: “It is a partial and skewed picture and no reflection on the success of the MAT model as a whole.

“No child should spend a single day in a failing school and work is already underway in all of these cases with Regional School Commissioners challenging these chains to show how they will improve and where that is not happening taking swift action – a sharp contrast to days when underperforming schools were left to languish under local authority schools. However there are many great MATs driving up standards and delivering an excellent education to children across the country, thanks to their ability to share resources, expertise and provide support to schools that may be struggling.”


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    • Janet Downs

      Nick Gibb once suggested that academies should be inspected by the Independent Schools Council instead of Ofsted because they were technically ‘independent’ schools. That should be cosy – there are no RI schools under ISC – Grade 3 schools are ‘sound’. That would lead to instant improvement with RI being redesignated as ‘sound’.

  1. Janet Downs

    The DfE spokesperson has forgotten the other MATs causing concern which weren’t named in the letter:
    TKAT – sent Ofsted letter of concern in 2014
    Barnfield Federation – broken up after scathing reports from Skills Funding Agency and Education Funding Agency
    Prospects – fast-tracked after schools minister Lord Hill seemed to ignore civil servants’ advice not to allow Prospects to take on more academies. Prospects wound itself up and left six academies in limbo.
    Woodard Academies Trust – has had troubled history (but no focussed inspections it appears). Monitoring in December 2015 of its Littlehampton Academy, put in Special Measures under its watch, found WAT’s support having ‘little impact’.
    Added to these are those MATs slapped with Financial Notices to Improve. These include two which were once among Gove’s favourite schools: Durand Academies Trust and Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust.

  2. Janet Downs

    In 2011, Gove said he wanted chains to grow as quickly as possible. This now seems a grave error of judgement since it is chains which have grown quickly which are now having problems: eg TKAT, SPTA, E-Act, AET, CfBT.

  3. Our schools being asked to choose now which trust linking to?? No detail etc so doing our own as we want to keep local kids and local links, plus our mission to give every child the best education we can provide, whilst being an inclusive school.
    The last few years again real debate is get rid of LEAs and local accountability. We and parents voted against grant maintained schools but lots of similarity and same political party except parents have no voice and no vote??

  4. wizzobravo

    There’s a gap in the track and the Education Express is steaming towards it at full throttle. The driver’s pushed the regulator to maximum then put her head in a bucket to drown out the sound of tortured machinery pushed to its limit. The guard has just leapt from the caboose, hoping not to be blamed for the onrushing disaster.

    It’s not looking good for our plucky heroes is it?

  5. Victoria Jaquiss

    It was only a question of time before they spotted that academisation wasn’t a magic bullet. Next they will realise that academisation isn’t anything. Then they will realise that good kids make good schools, and it has all been a dreadful, dreadful mistake that has impoverished this country and will continue to affect it for years to come.

  6. Revd Ian P.Hamilton

    As a former School Governor in an Inner London Comprehensive I am not surprised the steering has gone out of alignment on the Government’s School Academy Bus.

  7. John Connor

    Gove’s much vaunted “autonomy” was never more than smoke and mirrors. Schools belonging to MATs have less autonomy than when they were under local authority control. You can’t have autonomy over the curriculum when the whole system is manacled to high stakes national testing, the results of which determine career progression, pay and in some cases the very existence of the school. Most academy staff report that salaries have not improved following academisation. The only people who seem to have prospered are the CEOs of academy chains. This whole “emperor’s new clothes” sham is simply the pipe opener to pave the way for wholesale privatisation of the school system. What is happening is the inevitable consequence of the fragmentation of provision with inadequate governance from the DfE.An train wreck waiting to happen.

  8. Geraldine Mitchell

    I think the Governments non stated agenda is a success, this system was set up to fail the majority of children and that is exactly what it is doing.

  9. Wurley

    Reading all the comments, the train theme is quite relevant. All the mistakes made by the privatisation of the rail infrastructure can easily be made again with the Academisation of schools, some are being highlighted in this article.