Academy chains failing the poorest children, Ofsted says


Academy chains are "failing the poorest children", and are characterised by poor performance, weak leadership and "inflated views" of the quality available, the education watchdog has said.

In a report to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw identified a range of "serious weaknesses" at seven multi-academy trusts (MATs), where a single body is responsible for several academies.

The model was intended to replace the local authority-run set-up as part of David Cameron's education reforms in a bid to secure rapid improvement in education quality.

But Ofsted's review of their performance found "many" of the trusts had "the same weaknesses as the worst-performing" councils.

Sir Michael said he "fully supports the Government's ambition to create a more diverse and autonomous school system", but identified a slew of "concerns" - including declines in progress levels by children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

He said: "Given that the academies movement was initiated principally to improve the performance of disadvantaged pupils, it is particularly concerning that many of the academies in these trusts are failing their poorest children.

"Given these worrying findings about the performance of disadvantaged pupils and the lack of leadership capacity and strategic oversight by trustees, salary levels for the chief executives of some of these MATs do not appear to be commensurate with the level of performance of their trusts or constituent academies."

He said the average pay of the chief executives in these seven trusts is higher than the Prime Minister's salary, with one chief executive's salary reaching £225,000 - something described as "poor use" of public money.

The report was based on inspections at the SPTA, AET, E-Act, The Education Fellowship, Wakefield City, CfBT and Oasis Learning academy chains.

A Department for Education spokesman described the report as "a partial and skewed picture and no reflection on the success of the Multi-Academy Trust model as a whole".

He said: "No child should spend a single day in a failing school and work is already under way 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 under-performing 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."

Lucy Powell, the shadow education secretary, said the review was "more proof" the Government's approach to the schools system was "damaging the education of children".

She said: "Ofsted has identified a number of very serious concerns within these academy chains. The lack of oversight, the lack of capacity within the governance structures and failure to deliver improvements are all issues we have been raising for months.

"As the Government continues, without evidence, with its agenda to turn all schools into academies and no system of local oversight to spot and challenge under-performance early, these problems will only get worse, impacting on standards."

A Tory spokesman said: "Labour have nothing positive to say about the brilliant schools in this country and are yet to produce a single idea regarding their plan for education.

"They would allow a return to the days of declining standards, poor school discipline and low aspiration that typified the last Labour government's attitude to education. We should never trust them with our children's future ever again."