Wilshaw reveals recipe for success after inspecting 7 top academy trusts

Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has singled out seven academy trusts for praise, while taking another swipe at struggling trusts for “empire building”.

Wilshaw, in his monthly commentary published today, said Ofsted inspectors visited seven trusts to find out “what marks them out from their weaker counterparts”.

The trusts (full list below) were chosen from a list of high performers, all with at least nine academies, put together by national schools commissioner Sir David Carter.

Wilshaw said none of the trusts had used their “academy freedoms in a particularly radical way”, but said they all offered a broad curriculum, scholarly atmosphere and had an effective use of assessment to identify, escalate and tackle problems quickly.

Inspectors also found the trusts invested in professional development, placed a high priority on initial teacher training and had a “cautious and considered approach to expansion”.

The latter comment appears to be another swipe at trusts Wilshaw has already singled out for underperformance, including E-ACT, the School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA) and Academies Enterprise Trust.

In his latest commentary, he said the “strong performing trusts have resisted the temptation to expand too quickly and spread themselves too thinly across a wide geographical area”.

“There is no sense that the executive leaders are driven by a desire to build empires. Instead, their initial focus has been on securing sustainable improvement in a smaller number of academies.

“Most of these leaders are working to a 3 to 4-year consolidation plan before they consider applying their trust’s model on a wider scale and across a more diverse range of schools.”

Schools Week revealed last week that Carter will launch new multi-academy trust “health checks” from January to ensure only trusts with capacity to take on new schools are allowed to expand.

Some may question Wilshaw’s inclusion of REAch2 in a list of trusts that have avoided expanding too quickly.

More than a quarter of the 77 new free schools announced last month will be opened by the trust, which already runs more than 60 primary schools.

Schools Week revealed the trust’s expansion plans in May, when at the time two-thirds of its schools had still to be inspected by Ofsted.

The list is also notable for the exception of many chains name-checked by ministers, such as the Harris Federation and the Outwood Grange Academies Trust.


Full list:

  • Ark Academy Trust
  • ASPIRE Academy Trust
  • L.E.A.D Academy Trust
  • Leigh Academies Trust
  • REAch2 Academy Trust
  • The Diocese of Westminster Academy Trust
  • The First Federation Trust

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  1. A couple of thoughts on this:
    It’s good to hear some positive news about academy trusts for once. I’m interested that Wilshaw thinks that one of the reasons for their success is that many of the Chief Execs have a headteacher background – like him and Sir David Carter. He may be right or….maybe it’s an unrecognised prejudice against Chief Execs with a non-headteacher background?
    I’ve had to do my own research to find out that the largest trust mentioned in the report includes 35 schools and the smallest just 9. Two of them are exclusively or very nearly primary school only models. I understand the need to seek out common features whatever the model, but it seems likely that there is a great deal of detail that is being missed in Wilshaw’s commentary.
    Carter has gone on record as saying that about 1,000 new multi-academy trusts will be created by 2020 with smaller chains having to grow to accommodate more schools. “My challenge is we are probably going to need some of our trusts to grow again. The three to six-academy trusts will struggle to be sustainable. We need them to grow, to 10, to 15, to 20.” Yet Wilshaw seems to warning against this rapid expansion. If he’s right and the government pushes ahead with Carter’s plan, then it’s a surefire recipe for disaster. So maybe Wilshaw’s commentary isn’t very good news at all.

    • Sir M warned rightly against too-rapid expansion. But REAch2 and its partner Reach4 seem to be doing just that. 30 of REAch2’s 50 schools have not yet been inspected. Three of the remaining 20 are listed as Outstanding but one, for Tidemill Academy, is dated 2008 for the predecessor school. Tidemill hasn’t been inspected since becoming a REAch2 converter academy in 2011. Ten are Good, six Require Improvement and one is Inadequate. Monitoring of the latter in March 2016 said REAch2 had given support but hadn’t met its own deadline for meeting with Governors. This doesn’t bode well for a MAT which has just been given permission to take on 22 new free schools.