Half of schools in UK’s biggest academy chain are failing pupils

David Hoare,  the new head of Ofsted, was until recently a trustee of Academies Enterprise Trust

education editor

The country’s biggest academy chain has been censured by inspectors for failing pupils, prompting the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to renew his demand to be allowed to inspect all chains.

Too many pupils in the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) chain are failing to receive an adequate education, inspectors said yesterday. A survey of 12 of its schools by the education standards watchdog, Ofsted, paints a damning picture of performance by revealing five require improvement and one was inadequate. None of those inspected were outstanding, and one had declined since its previous inspection.

“It remains the case that around half the academies in the Trust are not yet good,” said Matthew Coffey, Ofsted’s chief operating officer, in a letter to AET summarising the reports. “Too many pupils in the Trust are not receiving a good-enough education.”

The findings have prompted Sir Michael to call again to be allowed to inspect the organisations running academy chains – a plea turned down by the former Education Secretary Michael Gove. At present, Ofsted can only inspect the schools run by the chains, not their administration.

AET is the fourth chain about which concerns have been raised by Ofsted. The body has previously sent critical letters to the E-ACT Trust, another of the biggest chains, along with the School Partnership Trust Academies and the Kemnal Academies Trust.

“Whilst some academy chains are performing well, I am concerned that a significant number are not doing as well as they should,” said Sir Michael.

Lord Nash, the minister in charge of free schools and academies, revealed he would be meeting AET’s chief executive today to discuss his organisation’s performance.

The letter and the reports were scheduled for publication last month – ironically at a time when one of the chain’s trustees, David Hoare, was appointed the new chairman of Ofsted – but they were delayed because of staffing difficulties. Mr Hoare has since resigned his trusteeship.

They immediately triggered a row between AET and Ofsted, with the trust claiming “potential errors of fact” and that the conclusions had an “unfairly negative slant” .

Key weaknesses highlighted in the letter included teaching falling below a standard allowing all pupils to make sufficient progress, work not being matched to pupils’ abilities, low expectations of pupils, inadequate marking and feedback, and unacceptable behaviour by pupils with poor attitudes to learning.

David Hoare is a former trustee of the AET chain David Hoare is a former trustee of the AET chain

Mr Coffey went on to say a survey of academy leaders within the trust revealed some felt “isolated” from the organisation. “Academy leaders did not have confidence in the trust’s ability to provide the support they needed and were seeking help from other sources,” he wrote. “The rapid expansion of the trust and a lack of strategic leadership have hindered improvement.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We have made clear to AET that underperformance is not acceptable and they agreed in 2013 to stop taking on more schools while they consolidate the academies they run.”

AET said the targeted inspection of the 12 academies “does not give the true picture of progress across our 77 academies”, and the letter put an “unfairly negative slant” on the reports. “Since September 2013, 16 schools have been judged ‘good’ and three ‘outstanding’, it said.

“We have raised a number of issues with Ofsted about their interpretation of the data and potential errors of fact,” it added. “Many of the academies inspected by Ofsted have a history of underperformance and have been with AET only for a short time. Turning a school round takes time but we are acting to ensure a rapid and sustained improvement in these academies.”

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