Damning Ofsted reports into academy chain schools heap pressure on Michael Gove

Inspectors observed poor quality teaching, weak monitoring of performance data and a lack of urgency in closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and others

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The Independent Online

An “overwhelming proportion” of pupils attending one of the country’s biggest academy chains fail to receive a good education, according to a damning inspection report.

There is an “urgent need” for E-ACT, which has 34 schools on its books, to improve the quality of its teaching, according to the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted).

Ofsted is forbidden by law from inspecting academy chains. However, because of concerns over standards at E-ACT schools, it mounted 16 separate inspections of individual schools run by the sponsor. The watchdog’s critical verdict will heap more pressure on the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to bow to demands to allow the watchdog to inspect chains.

Of the 16 schools inspected, five failed outright, including Hartsbrook E-ACT free school in the West Midlands. A further six “required improvement” and were failing to provide a “good” education for children, four were rated “good” and one was judged “outstanding”.

Of the 18 other schools run by the chain, which had already been inspected, 11 were judged to be less than good in the standards they reached.

In a letter spelling out the weaknesses inspectors observed, Ofsted said that there was:

* Poor quality teaching, with the work set in lessons inadequately matched to pupils’ abilities;

* Weak monitoring and poor use of performance data by senior leaders who did not know where teaching needed to improve;

* A lack of urgency in closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and others.

Lorna Fitzjohn, Ofsted’s regional director for the West Midlands, said: “The evidence collected during these inspections indicates that intervention and support provided by E-ACT was ineffective action to improve schools.”

E-ACT had the lowest proportion of good or outstanding schools of the 10 biggest academy chains, she added.

Ms Fitzjohn said E-ACT had deducted a proportion of the pupil premium – given to schools to improve the performance of disadvantaged pupils – before it had reached the schools.

“It is unclear how these deducted funds are being used to improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils,” she said. Mike Cladingbowl, national director of schools at Ofsted, said: “The outcomes of these inspections indicate that E-ACT has not been effective in improving its academies.”

The academy chain has a history of controversy. Earlier this year, it was revealed that, after talks with the Department for Education, it would be handing 10 of its schools back for other sponsors to run.  It was also on a list of 14 academy chains – revealed last week – that had been told they would not be given permission to run any more schools because of concerns over standards.

Prior to that, it was the subject of a critical report by the Government’s Education Funding Agency into “extravagant” overspending on expenses.

The agency report criticised Sir Bruce Liddington, the chain’s former director general – and before that a senior civil servant at the DfE responsible for promoting academies – who quit after E-ACT was given notice to improve its financial controls.

A spokeswoman for E-ACT said: “No one should be in any doubt about E-ACT’s commitment to the task of improvement. Over the past two terms we have begun root and branch reforms under new leadership with some key successes.”

The Schools minister, Lord Nash, warned that Mr Gove would not hesitate to take “further robust action” if E-ACT schools did not improve.