Trust praised by ministers tops suspensions tables in Ofsted's areas of concern

An academy trust praised by ministers tops the fixed-term exclusions tables in four authorities that concern Ofsted

Exclusions divide education. The government’s Timpson Review is currently looking at the practice and earlier this year Ofsted wrote to schools in ten local authorities about their high fixed-term exclusion rates.

Six of those ten have provided figures for the past three years to Schools Week after a freedom of information request.

The only message getting out is high exclusions are bad and low exclusions are good, which is unjustifiable

They show that schools run by the Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT) last year had the highest proportion of fixed-term exclusions in four areas – Barnsley, North Lincolnshire, Redcar and Cleveland and Sheffield.

The trust does not run schools in the other two areas, Knowsley and Rotherham.

Lord Nash, the former academies minister once called OGAT “one of our most successfully performing academy trusts”, while Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, described it as a “top-performing” sponsor.

Following the letters, Ofsted last week warned in its annual report that “temporary exclusions are too high” in some struggling schools.

However, Mark Lehain, director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, said the inspectorate should not offer a “strong view” because each suspension or exclusion had particular circumstances.

“The only message getting out is high exclusions are bad and low exclusions are good, which is unjustifiable.”

He said schools were confused about what to do – whether cutting or increasing suspension rates was the most effective way to improve after an inadequate Ofsted grade.

Mark Lehain

Schools Week has previously reported that two OGAT schools in Barnsley, Outwood Academy Shafton and Outwood Academy Carlton, suspended 35 per cent of the pupils sent home in that authority in 2017-18.

The figures also show that 30 per cent of the pupils suspended in North Lincolnshire last year were sent home by two OGAT schools, Outwood Academy Brumby and Outwood Academy Foxhills.

Meanwhile in Sheffield, Outwood Academy City topped the list for suspensions at 11 per cent, a three-percentage point increase on two years earlier. The local-authority run Westfield School had the second highest rate last year with 7 per cent.

Martyn Oliver, the chief executive of OGAT, said the standards the trust demanded “are the standards all good schools would want”. He said his schools were popular with parents again.

The Chaucer school, run by the Tapton Academy Trust, had the third highest suspension rate in Sheffield. It now wanted to reduce its suspensions to improve behaviour and pull it out of special measures imposed in 2016, said David Dennis, the trust’s chief executive.

He said it had developed a programme called LINCS – learning inclusion support – in which teachers, social workers and therapists intervened rapidly with pupils at risk of suspension.

As a result suspensions reduced this year and “fewer pupils are disrupting lessons”, he said.

Dave Whitaker

In Redcar and Cleveland, 22 per cent of suspended pupils in the authority were from Outwood Academy Redcar, which is in special measures, and a further 22 per cent from Academies Enterprise Trust’s Hillsview Academy, also in special measures. A spokesperson for AET said a new principal in place since summer at Hillsview had ensured attendance had risen and suspensions had fallen.

The third highest rate was for St Peter’s Catholic voluntary academy in Middlesbrough, with 13 per cent last year, a huge increase on the two years before when it accounted for just 1.7 per cent and 2.4 per cent of suspensions.

Ofsted placed the school in special measures in February last year, pointing to its poor progress rate. Since then it has joined the Nicholas Postgate Catholic academy trust and inspectors have praised the school’s improvement plan.

Hugh Hegarty, the trust’s chief executive, said the school had implemented “robust strategies” to improve teaching and learning that “set out clear and high expectations of our staff and pupils”.

Dave Whitaker, executive principal at Springwell Learning Community, an alternative provision school in Barnsley, has urged Ofsted to examine how budget cuts affect exclusion rates. The inspectorate had “identified the symptoms but not the causes” of high exclusions, he said.

The Timpson Review is due to report early next year.