19.Both Ofsted and the RSCs play a role in holding MATs to account. RSCs are expected to intervene in MATs which have performance, governance or financial management issues. Ofsted inspect the educational performance of individual academies and have a role in reviewing the performance of MATs. The DfE state that powers are “careful balanced” between these organisations.
Ofsted and the DfE’s accountability measures diagnose quality, RSCs commission intervention, a contestable market delivers the intervention.
20.In January 2015 the then Secretary of State, Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, set out her views on the arrangements by which Ofsted inspects the performance of MATs. A letter to Sir Michael Wilshaw described the process of “batched” inspections where Ofsted inspects several schools within a trust. These inspections are followed by a public letter with a judgement from Ofsted on the overall performance of the MAT.
21.The extent to which Ofsted should be given powers to inspect individual MATs was discussed within several pieces of evidence we received. The Sutton Trust told us that:
Ofsted has done more to inspect academy chains recently using existing powers but these inspections should be formalised, with a specific remit to inspect how they support the teaching, leadership and educational services within their schools.
22.Similarly the Association of Teachers and Lectures (ATL) wrote that Ofsted should be given the same powers to inspect MATs as it currently has to inspect local authorities. There is also no mechanism for inspectors to follow up their inspection reports on trusts and no duty for the Department to respond to Ofsted’s ‘batched’ inspections.
23.In evidence to us Sir Michael made it clear that these inspections do not go far enough.
The issue of concern to me is: what happens when we find things are going wrong across a number of academies within a trust? What happens then if we want to do more exploration as to why things are going wrong across a number of schools? How much money is being spent on the children and on other issues? Is the quality of monitoring good enough in the trust? The issue is: what happens if we find things are going wrong and we need to do much more exploration as to why?
24.Sir Michael called for Ofsted to be given a framework to inspect the central services of MATs, in a similar way to which they currently inspect local authorities. Sir Michael was succeeded as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) in January 2017 by Amanda Spielman. At her pre-appointment hearing in June 2016, she said:
The system is evolving rapidly. I cannot imagine that, in a few years’ time, it would be possible to have an inspection system that does not include multi-academy trusts [ … ] Over time I think it is highly likely that we will end up with a multi-layered inspection model, and for me that would be a good development, but I think it is something that is part of the evolution of the system. It is not something that you can just snap a switch and say, “This is it.”
25.In September, the Secretary of State indicated that the Government was re-considering the role of Ofsted in inspecting trusts.
My sense is there is a question to be asked about how Ofsted can effectively inspect MATs and whether there is a smarter way to do it [ … ] I should also say though that we need to be clear that some of these other issues I talked about—governance, financial sustainability, risk management—are not necessarily things that Ofsted per se would necessarily have the expertise to particularly take a view on.
26.In the final evidence session of this inquiry, Lord Nash told us that “it is not part of the skillset of HMI to analyse the finances or governance or organisation structure of a MAT”. He went on to say that it was the EFA’s job to look at finances and governance, rather than Ofsted’s. Several MATs also took this view in their evidence. Oasis Community Learning agreed with Lord Nash by stating “that assessing the organisational effectiveness (infrastructure and governance of a charitable organisation) of a MAT is not within Ofsted’s skillset”. Similarly Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) criticised Ofsted’s lack of understanding of governance structures. Despite this they did call for a formalised “transparent and agreed framework for inspection” of trusts.
27.There is a gap in assessing MATs which neither Ofsted nor RSCs presently fulfil. The current situation of Ofsted conducting ‘batched inspections’ is not sustainable or sufficient as MATs expand over the next five to six years. It is not a formal inspection or accountability process and does not necessarily lead to intervention from Ofsted or the Department.
28.Ofsted needs a new framework for MAT inspections and should develop the resources, skills and powers to conduct full inspections of trusts.
29.Our previous report on RSCs highlighted the need for the Government to clarify the division of responsibilities between RSCs and Ofsted:
We recommend that Ofsted and the national Schools Commissioner consider further how they could ensure that RSC and Ofsted visits to schools are coordinated and do not create an unnecessary burden on schools. Further, they should ensure that schools are clear about the distinction between Ofsted inspections and RSC visits.
30.Evidence we received during this inquiry indicated that this has not yet been done. We also recommended that the Government should redesign the RSC regions so that they are coterminous with Ofsted regions. This recommendation was rejected by the Government in its response, but evidence during this inquiry indicated that there is still appetite for alignment of the regions.
The relationship between RSCs and Ofsted’s regional directors could potentially be a very important one but is limited because regions are not aligned.
31.We heard that the continuing crossover between the role of Ofsted and RSCs is confusing for trusts, individual schools and parents. The National Governors’ Association (NGA) told us they would like to see “further clarity defining the relationship between Ofsted and the RSC”. The Education and Adoption Act 2016 expanded the remit of the RSCs, giving them power to convert maintained schools judged to be ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and intervene in schools judged to be ‘coasting’ regardless of their Ofsted rating. This brought the remit of RSCs and Ofsted closer. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) told us that the passage of this Act “exacerbated” the “confusing duplication between the remits of Ofsted, and RSCs”.
32.This confusion is felt amongst teachers, schools and trusts. Professor Toby Greany and Dr Melanie Ehren from UCL Institute of Education commented on headteachers’ experiences of working with RSCs and Ofsted:
Head teachers tell us that the frameworks used by Regional Schools Commissioners to monitor quality are unclear and that differences in the frameworks used by their trust, by Ofsted and by the Regional Schools Commissioners can create conflicting expectations around which areas schools need to improve on.
33.Similarly parents told us that they found the position of RSCs difficult to understand, particularly compared to Ofsted whose role is broadly understood.
34.All three RSCs spoke about their relationship with their Ofsted counterparts during their evidence to us. Jennifer Bexon-Smith, RSC for East Midlands and the Humber, told us that she met face-to-face with the Ofsted regional directors a minimum of once a term and keeps in regular contact via phone calls. When asked whether MATs should be inspected by Ofsted, Rebecca Clark replied:
I think that the current position is that we look at the quality of multi-academy trusts, the quality of the individual schools within them, so the current arrangement whereby Ofsted will go and inspect individual schools seems to me to give us a really clear picture of how well those trusts are serving the interests of the children in the communities.
35.This lack of clarity over the roles of Ofsted and RSCs has had a detrimental effect on MAT oversight. At points during our inquiry, the relationship between the National and Regional Schools Commissioners and Ofsted appeared to be strained. During oral evidence to us in March 2016 Sir Michael called RSCs “faceless” and added:
I am not clear what the regional schools commissioners do, other than re-broker failing academies. Sometimes relationships are a bit tense, because we believe that RSCs should be doing more with underperforming academies, not just those ones who fail.
36.Sir Michael also stressed Ofsted’s independence, in comparison with RSCs whose role he said is to “champion academies”.
37.Two previous Committee reports have recommended that the Government clarify the division of responsibilities between RSCs and Ofsted in a way that is comprehensible to schools and parents. There remains too much overlap between the roles of Ofsted and RSCs.
38.The Government should follow our previous recommendation and align Ofsted and RSC regions. There is also more work to be done to clarify the distinction between Ofsted inspections and RSC visits.
39.The expansion of the MAT model represents a significant shift in school governance. Joining a MAT means there is a shift in accountability away from local governing boards to a central trustee board who hold the decision making responsibilities. The trustees are responsible for the same three core governance functions performed by the governing body in a maintained school: setting the direction, holding the headteacher to account and ensuring financial probity. The extent of the powers of the local governing board is dependent on what the MAT board has delegated to them and it is possible for these local boards to be purely advisory. The NGA has been critical of the Government’s efforts to make this crucial shift to a centralised trustee board clear:
NGA is concerned that the Department for Education (DfE) advice for performance, accountability and governance in MATs is lacking. Where DfE advice and practice does exist, it lacks clarity and often consistency across the department [ … ] NGA would like the DfE to provide more in terms of generic advice including guidance on structures and accountability that MATs could then choose from.
40.The NGA warned that there can be a power struggle between trust boards and local governing boards where changes have not been well communicated. In oral evidence to us Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the NGA, stressed the importance of Schemes of Delegation, which she said every MAT should publish. The NGA called the Scheme of Delegation “the key document for defining the relationship between the MAT trust board and its schools”. It crucially “establishes who makes which decisions and ensures all those within the MAT and governing bodies of schools potentially looking to join a MAT are clear”.
41.In December 2016 the Department published ‘Multi-academy trusts: good practice guidance and expectations for growth’, which included advice and examples of best practice. It included “10 characteristics of governance in effective MATs” and used Reach2’s governance structure as an example of a model which works and could be replicated. At a similar time the Department updated their Governance handbook. A new section in the handbook states:
As the accountable body, the board is the key decision maker [ … ] the board as a corporate entity remains accountable and responsible for all decisions made.
42.While we welcome the Government’s recent document which set out examples of best practice in governance, there is still significant confusion about the move to boards of trustees being the accountable bodies for MATs. This move has not been communicated well enough by the Department and has led schools to join or start trusts without full knowledge of how their governance structures will change. The Department must improve and extend the advice and guidance they offer.
43.Educational Excellence Everywhere stated “we will expect all governing boards to focus on seeking people with the right skills for governance, and so we will no longer require academy trusts to reserve places for elected parents on governing boards”. Six months later, and after a considerable amount of criticism from the sector, the new Secretary of State announced that the Government would not pursue this proposal. In September, the Secretary of State told us: “I don’t think we should be saying MATs don’t need to have parents. Parent governors play a vital role actually.”
44.Whilst the decision to remove parents from governing boards was abandoned, we heard from numerous sources that the means by which local communities can hold their trust to account is less clear than in maintained school structures. Professor Pam Stapleton and Dr Anne Stafford from the University of Manchester described downward accountability to parents and other local stakeholders as “diminished”.
It is unclear how local communities can get voice in a MAT. There is an elongated hierarchical structure between the local community of one academy, and the national MAT executive level.
45.During our inquiry we heard from several parent groups through written evidence and our engagement event. Aside from the formal role of the parent governor, parents told us that they feel powerless to engage with chains whose central administration can be many miles from their local school. The newly-formed Rescue Our Schools organisation wrote:
MATs disengage schools, parents and stakeholders from their communities [ … ] The MAT model leads to dominant chains, spread across diverse areas of the country and large schools. Many families do not want these for their children.
46.We were told by parents that MATs are not sufficiently accountable to their local community and they feel disconnected from decision making at trustee board level. There is too much emphasis on ‘upward’ accountability and not enough on local engagement.
47.Trusts must publish their scheme of delegation on their website and trustee boards have a duty to be clear with local governing boards that the decision-making responsibilities are held by the Board of Trustees in a MAT, and not at a local level. MATs should demonstrate a sincere commitment to outreach and engagement with the local community.
18 Department for Education, Regional schools commissioners decision making framework, December 2016, p 3
19 Regional schools commissioners decision making framework, December 2016, p 3
21 The Sutton Trust ()
22 Association of Teachers and Lecturers () para 4
24 Oral evidence taken on 29 June 2016, HC (2016–17) 170, Q58
25 Oral evidence taken on 14 September 2016, HC (2016–17) 196, Q254
27 Oasis Community Learning para 52
28 Academies Enterprise Trust () para 2.25
31 Education Committee, Fifth Special report of Session 2015–16, The role of Regional Schools Commissioners: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report of Session 2015–16, HC 975, p 7
32 National Governors’ Association () para 91
33 () para 91
34 National Union of Teachers () para 15
35 Professor Toby Greany and Dr Melanie Ehren, UCL Institute of Education () para 21
36 See Annex 1
39 Oral evidence taken on 2 March 2016, HC (2015–16) 650, Q68
40 HC (2015–16) 650, Q66
41 National Governors’ Association () para 51–52
44 National Governors’ Association , accessed 4 January 2017
45 National Governors’ Association () para 59
46 Department for Education, ,December 2016
47 Department for Education, , January 2017
48 , January 2017
49 Department for Education, Educational Excellence Everywhere, , March 2016, p 51
50 Oral evidence taken on 14 September 2016, HC (2016–17) 196, Q259
51 HC (2016–17) 196, Q259
52 Professor Pam Stapleton and Dr Anne Stafford () para 4.1
53 () para 4.1
54 See Annex 1
55 Rescue Our Schools ()
27 February 2017