2 Intervening in underperforming schools |
13. When a school has been identified as underperforming
there are three main formal interventions, as described in paragraph
11 above. The NAO report shows that the Department and other oversight
bodies do not always react consistently when schools merit intervention,
and the Department was unable to explain why this is. In particular,
analysis shows that, in September 2013, there were 179 open academies
that met the Department's criteria for a warning notice owing
to poor educational performance, but the Department only sent
notices to 15. In 141 out of the 179 cases, the Department had
not even identified the schools as being eligible for intervention.
14. Similarly, when the National Audit Office looked
at records from the Agency, it found 4 cases of suspected fraud
where schools had received financial notices to improve, but a
further 7 such cases where they had not. The Agency had not kept
sufficiently good records to justify the different approaches
taken. We questioned
both the Department and the Agency about these findings and they
acknowledged that they had not done enough to record the basis
for judgements about when to intervene and that this had created
a risk of inconsistency. They told us they were planning to demonstrate
greater consistency in future. 
15. The effectiveness of formal interventions varies,
and many underperforming schools improve without formal intervention.
The NAO analysis of Ofsted ratings for all schools inspected in
2012/13 identified those that had been less than 'good' at their
previous inspection. Some of these schools had received formal
interventions in the interim, but these interventions were associated
with a range of outcomes; 48% (62) of schools had improved, 39%
(50) had stayed the same, and 13% (17) had deteriorated at the
time of their next inspection. The NAO's analysis shows that,
while the apparent impact of different kinds of formal intervention
varies significantly, the appointment of interim executive boards
is associated with most improvement. The National Governors Association
agreed that, in its experience, interim executive boards were
often a very good way of moving a school out of serious difficulties.
Meanwhile, 59% (2,181 out of 3,696) of schools that were less
than 'good' but received no formal intervention also improved.
The National Governors Association told us that it was surprised
that such a high proportion of schools improved without formal
16. Overall, the key finding of the analysis was
that the Department did not know enough about what makes for effective
interventions. It has not sought to understand the costs and effectiveness
of different interventions and it acknowledged in answer that
it could know more. However, it did not provide details of any
further work that it has underway at present.
17. Specifically with regard to sponsored academies,
the Department drew our attention to the significant improvements
that sponsors can make when the academy policy works well.
However, it accepted that its own and others' analyses, for example
that recently issued by the Sutton Trust, showed too much variation
in the effectiveness of sponsors and academy chains. Ofsted agreed,
but recognised that academy chains often have to work in challenging
circumstances. The inspectorate stressed that in order for a chain
to be successful it needed high-quality leadership at every level
of management, including head teachers, governors, trustees and
The Chief Inspector of Schools said that, when chains failed,
"the quality of leadership at the centre of the chain has
not been good enough and the trusteeship has not been good enough".
18. We challenged the Department about whether its
oversight of academy sponsors had kept pace with the expansion
of the academies programme. We asked witnesses if the Department
had taken an optimistic view of some sponsors' capacity to grow.
Ofsted told us that the Department had allowed some sponsors to
expand "exponentially, without the capacity to make the necessary
improvements" at schools they took over.
Currently, there are 18 sponsors that the Department is not allowing
to grow further because of poor performance in some of their schools.
These sponsors run 163 academies that currently contain a combined
total of 94,000 pupils.
Two of the chains account for the majority of schools affected:
AET and E-Act, which in total run 108 academies.
The Department could not explain why it had allowed these chains
to become so big before pausing their growth.
19. We heard about the importance of having an independent
view of the effectiveness of academy sponsors. Ofsted currently
inspects local authority school improvement services, but does
not have the same power to inspect sponsors' and academy chains'
central functions. We asked Ofsted whether it could get sufficient
information about sponsors and academy chains from its focussed
inspections of groups of schools that they run. The Chief Inspector
of Schools told us that his preference was to have the same powers
as he has for local authority school improvement services. He
also said that he felt sponsors and chains might welcome the greater
transparency that statutory inspection might bring, as it would
enable Ofsted to publish a clear inspection framework.
31 Q 142; C&AG's Report, para 3.5 Back
Qq 193-195; C&AG's Report, para 3.8 Back
Qq 145 and 195 Back
Qq 12-14; 92-98; C&AG's Report, figure 9, para 3.18 Back
Q 92 Back
Q 154 Back
Q 102 Back
Q 181 Back
Qq 146, 171 Back
Q 157 Back
Supplementary written evidence provided by the Department Back
Qq 166-167 Back
Qq 166 - 171 Back
Qq 99-100 Back