University-backed academy trust criticised for overseeing weak teaching

The Education Central Multi Academy Trust has been ordered to improve its teaching and school improvement “urgently”, after Ofsted rated half of its schools as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’.

The ECMAT trust is run by the University of Wolverhampton and operates 13 schools, of which 12 have been inspected so far. Six of these were awarded ‘good’ grades, but three each of the other six received grade threes and fours.

This is the university’s second academy chain, expanded after the City of Wolverhampton Academy Trust was banned from taking on new schools in 2013-14 due to poor performance.

Despite the setback, the university was allowed to continue running the MAT, which grew from six schools in 2013-14 to 13 last year.

The education watchdog carried out a focused inspection of seven of the schools and, in a report released today, found that standards had declined in all three of the trust’s secondary schools.

“The trust’s stated aim to raise aspirations has not translated into an effective strategy to secure sustainable and consistent school improvement,” inspectors warned.

Disadvantaged pupils have “poor” attainment and progress by the end of their secondary education, and trust leaders had not done enough to provide “strong leadership of school improvement”. Weak teaching meanwhile persisted alongside poor decision-making by leaders and unchecked governance.

Inspectors did praise the leadership of the new chief executive Professor Michelle Lowe. Under her stewardship, the trust has managed resources with more efficiency and forethought, Ofsted says.

“This is starting to benefit the quality of education in schools, but has yet to be consistently demonstrated in pupils’ outcomes,” the report stated.

Lowe said the trust acknowledged the review, and “will be looking very closely at the comments and recommendations the inspectors have put forward and addressing any concerns”.

“There is still plenty of work to do across our other schools,” she said. “Improvements and good practice haven’t been embedded as quickly as we would have liked, but we feel we now have the structure and systems in place to address those issues.”

She claimed the trust was taking “effective action and making progress” with its secondary schools.

Earlier this year, Wolverhampton City Council took the unusual step of pleading with the government to move one of the trust’s schools to another sponsor.

The council wrote to Christine Quinn, the RSC for the west midlands, to voice concerns about Wednesfield High Specialist Engineering Academy, which was rated ‘inadequate’.

A spokesperson for Wednesfield High said the school was “disappointed” the council had asked the RSC to find new sponsors without first speaking to ECMAT or the University of Wolverhampton.

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