University-backed academy trust praised for 'rapid' improvement

Ofsted has praised the University of Chichester Academy Trust for “rapidly” improving its schools with “well-targeted challenge and support”.

In a letter sent following inspections at several of the trusts schools, inspectors praised the university for being “fully committed” to its academy trust, bucking a recent trend for criticism of university-led academy trusts, several of which have received damning feedback this year.

Ofsted visited four of the trust’s schools, Berewood Primary School and Frogmore Junior School in Hampshire, and Kingsham Primary School and Fernhurst Primary School in West Sussex, on July 19 and 20.

Berewood and Ferhurst were both graded ‘good’, but Kingsham, which had not been inspected before, was told it ‘requires improvement’.

Frogmore was said to be “taking effective action”, having also received a grade three in June 2016.

The watchdog praised leadership and management at the trust, noting that all schools inspected since they had joined the trust had been judged either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in the category.

Inspectors said that overall, the trust “provides its schools with very effective support for finance, human resources and estate management”, enabling school leaders to focus on school improvement.

Safeguarding was also strong, and trust leaders use “well-established and effective systems” to monitor, evaluate and support the work of school leaders”.

Independent academy improvement partners play a vital role, leading to improvements in the quality of teaching, faster pupil progress across the schools, and improving outcomes overall, in some cases from low starting points.

Ofsted said the trust should provide “sharper and more consistent” reporting to trustees about pupil achievement and explore how schools can access specialist report to ensure improvements can be “sustained over time”.

There should also be plans to “strengthen school-to-school support by sharing best practice”, inspectors said.

University of Chichester Academy Trust includes six other schools across Hampshire and Portsmouth. Two are rated ‘good’ and four have not yet been inspected.

The letter makes for much more positive reading than others issued to university-backed trusts this year.

Earlier this month, Schools Week reported that the Education Central Multi Academy Trust run by the University of Wolverhampton had been ordered to improve its teaching and school improvement “urgently”, after Ofsted rated half of its schools as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’.

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

Twelve of ECMAT’s 13 schools have been inspected, with six awarded ‘good’ grades, but three each of the other six received grade threes and fours.

Ofsted also criticised the University of Chester Academies Trust in January for failing in its school improvement strategies and for “below average” standards in some of its schools.

The watchdog warned that pupil progress was “not good enough”, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, and was also “weak” among the most able after inspecting three schools run by UCAT.