6 Academies and collaboration |
Inspection of academy chains
88. At present, while Ofsted can inspect schools
within academy chains and has recently begun inspecting local
authority school improvement services, it does not have the power
to inspect academy chains themselves. James O'Shaughnessy has
previously argued for this development in a report published by
and he reiterated this in his evidence to us. He told us that
"chains in themselves should be inspected and evaluated to
see that they are adding value as opposed to exogenous factors
that have just happened because they have replaced the head or
whatever it is".
Professor David Woods similarly argued that, just as variability
is seen in other parts of the education system, variability is
likely to occur in the offer from academy chains. 
Inspection would shine a light on this and help to drive improvement.
David Sims from the NfER told us that inspecting individual schools
only gives a partial picture of what is going on in a partnership
and argued that inspection of the partnerships would provide more
evidence of the group effect.
89. Sir Michael Wilshaw has previously told us that:
We will be inspecting local authorities and we
should inspect academy chains as well, if we identify underperformance.
I have made that clear to the Secretary of State. It is only fair
and equitable that we do that. We have not got the same powers
at the moment, but I look forward to receiving the powers to do
When questioned on this matter, the Minister told
us that the Government "would rather Ofsted focused on its
other activities, which are extensive."
He argued that such inspections would not "give us any information
we do not have materially at the moment" from the inspection
of the underlying schools and stated that the Government did not
"feel [academy chain inspections] would be of any benefit
to the Department" in assessing their activities.
disagree with the Minister's assessment and point out that Ofsted
inspections are intended to provide information to parents, as
well as the DfE. We
conclude that parents should be provided with information about
the performance of academy chains, as well as individual schools.
We recommend that Ofsted be provided with the powers it needs
to inspect academy chains.
Moving on from partnerships
91. Several witnesses suggested that being able to
leave hard partnerships, in particular, academy chains, under
certain circumstances, was important. We heard from James O'Shaughnessy
that at least one academy chain had already disaggregated by mutual
consent and informal conversation. He expressed concern that if
movement between different partnerships becomes more widespread
(as he argued that it would) then the lack of a formal process
would become problematic.
Formal procedures for the leaving or dissolution of federations
between schools are written into the regulations governing these
kinds of partnership.
In its written evidence, Devon County Council argued the fact
that schools can 'de-federate' at a later date is a "very
attractive" feature of federation as a partnership model.
Similar formal arrangements do not exist for academies, although
the Minister confirmed that schools could leave hard partnerships
by mutual consent.
92. We believe that it
would be desirable to have clarification about the formal procedures
for leaving hard partnerships with mutual consent, given the growing
number of academy academies and chains. We
recommend that the procedures for schools to leave academy chains
by mutual consent are formalised and published. The Government
should consider modelling them on those already in place for federations.
93. Witnesses also raised the question of schools
being able to leave chains under certain circumstances, even where
this is against the wishes of the sponsor. An example of this
would be a school wishing to move from one chain to another that
better fits its ethos. James O'Shaughnessy argued that "I
do think it is a reasonable thing to think about how schools could
move between chains or different governance arrangements, particularly
if they are 'outstanding'. [...] I think there is a case for a
formal route to do that, but carefully circumscribed".
94. The need for this careful circumscription was
the Minister's primary objection to enabling schools to leave
academy chains. He told us that "I do not see how the organisation
of the chain group can work if people can, frankly, come and go
at their will".
We recognise this concern and agree that there needs to be stability
in the system. A more fundamental difficulty, however, is the
lack of a legal entity within an individual school which is capable
of taking the decision to leave, since there is no governing body
of an academy independent of the chain It
appears logical that in a mature education market, schools should
have the flexibility to move between partnerships where this is
the right thing to do for their pupils. We recommend that the
Government explain how a school consistently judged 'Outstanding'
would be able to leave an academy chain where this is against
the wishes of the chain management.
Monitoring converter academies
95. In the 2010 Schools White Paper, the Government
stated that "We will expect every school judged by Ofsted
to be outstanding or good with outstanding features which converts
into an Academy to commit to supporting at least one weaker school
in return for Academy status".
During this inquiry, we received overwhelming evidence that converter
academies are not living up to this expectation and pulling their
weight when it comes to supporting other schools. One submission
suggested that many only "paid lip-service to this requirement",
and another argued that converter academies are "working
Similar sentiments were expressed by ASCL
and the National Governors' Association (NGA).
This is despite the fact that, as part of their application for
academy status, these schools named a school that they would support.
Even supporters of academies suggested that more could be done.
Kent County Council told us that "Academies have played a
very active part in [the development of Kent's collaborative partnership
model] and are leading a number of partnership initiatives. It
may be that the DfE could assist the development of collaborative
partnerships by strengthening the requirement by convertor academies
to contribute to school to school support".
96. We investigated the reasons behind the situation.
The National Association of School Partnerships argued that "Stand
alone converter academies tend to be confident, independent, competitive
schools with little or no interest in the wider system. Their
commitment to form and develop real collaboration is often negligible.
At best they show a willingness to help a weaker school".
Others were more inclined to look beyond individual schools. The
NAHT argued that the DfE's current policy on converter academies
supporting other schools ignores "geographical dimensions
of school performance",
with outstanding converter academies often not having nearby schools
in need of intervention for this reason. Nottingham City Council
told us that part of the problem was "a lack of clarity about
what is actually required as a minimum" from converter academies.
They also questioned whether the problem was entirely with the
converter academies themselves and suggesting the DfE shared some
of the blame for not fully supporting this policy: "Some
successful converter academies, who are motivated to support other
schools in challenging circumstances, find the main barrier to
doing this is DfE bureaucracy and policy change, perceived lack
of engagement and understanding".
97. The DfE told us that
"Findings from an early sample showed that all of the academies
we spoke to either had or were supporting other schools".
In oral evidence, the Minister argued that they "do not see
a big problem with this", citing seemingly the same survey.
When pressed, the Minister told us that the survey consisted of
asking 21 converter academies what they were doing to support
No information was given on the basis on which the sample was
selected. The DfE implicitly acknowledged this monitoring was
not adequate in its written evidence, stating that it "is
currently considering putting in place additional steps to monitor
academies' support for other schools and how best to monitor and
review this more closely".
It is essential that converter academies properly fulfil their
obligations to support other schools. This is particularly important
if progress is to be made in closing the gap between the performance
of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and the rest of the school
population. We recommend
that the DfE urgently review its arrangements for monitoring the
expectation that converter academies support another school and
implement more effective processes as soon as possible. We recommend
that such processes include surveys of the schools which were
promised support on converter academies' applications forms, since
this would give a more accurate picture of the support being provided.
98. We recommend
that the Government ensure outstanding converter academies are
able to support other schools in the ways they think will bring
about the best results. Some schools will wish to support others
through models other than that of sponsoring another academy and
this should be positively and actively encouraged by the DfE.
187 Policy Exchange, Competition Meets Collaboration:
Helping school chains address England's long tail of educational
failure (London, 2012) Back
Q 68 Back
Q 126 Back
Q 85 [David Sims] Back
Oral evidence taken before the Education Committee on 13 February
2013, HC (2012-13) 980-i, Q 18. Back
Q 226 Back
Qq 90-91 Back
The School Governance (Federations) (England) Regulations 2012,
parts 6 and 7 Back
Ev w95, p 1 Back
Q 230 Back
Q 91 Back
Q 241 Back
Department for Education, The Importance of Teaching: the Schools
White Paper 2010, Cm 7980, November 2010, para 5.12 Back
Ev w95, para 5 Back
Ev w49, para 31 Back
Ev w6, para 30 Back
Ev w90, para 6.1 Back
Ev 80 para 27 Back
Ev 78, para 7.2 Back
Ev w61, p 6 Back
Ev w25, para 10 Back
Ev w9, para 5 Back
Ev w9, para 5 Back
Ev 46, para 31 Back
Q 201 Back
Q 202 Back
Ev 46, para 31 Back