The scrutiny of multi-academy trust performance by Ofsted has undergone some 'operational changes'.
Please see our recent update on MAT summary evaluations.
The scrutiny of multi-academy trust (MAT) performance by Ofsted has undergone some operational changes. The regime previously known as 'focused inspections' has been replaced by 'MAT summary evaluations'. In this note, we comment on the new approach and identify a number of key elements for MATs to reflect on.
The practice of MATs themselves being subject to scrutiny by the inspectorate is not a new one. In 2015, 'a concerted programme of action to establish the effectiveness of multi-academy trusts in supporting and challenging academy schools within individual chains', known as focused inspections, was launched. Under that regime, Ofsted mainly concentrated on the largest MATs at the weakest and strongest ends of the spectrum in terms of performance but it was never entirely clear how those inspections should run or exactly how MATs would be selected for them because no guidance was ever issued.
Ofsted’s position now is that, having trialled the new approach, the revised system of summary inspections will improve and clarify the experience for all.
Interestingly, Ofsted has released an operational note for inspectors to support this new process. Whilst Ofsted has dropped the phrase 'inspection' the operational note will, in high level terms, look broadly familiar to the approach set out in the main inspections framework.
As with the predecessor regime, the Secretary of State has written to HM Chief Inspector to give the nod to the new process (available here), including emphasising the point that MATs are not being inspected in the strict sense of the word – it remains the case that there is no legal basis for Ofsted inspecting and grading the MAT entity independently under the inspection framework.
As mentioned above, Ofsted has taken the opportunity to publish an 'operational note for inspectors' to support the new system (available here). Rather than summarise and repeat that note’s contents here, we share some key observations below.
There was no such guidance under the previous era of focused inspections and it is fair to say that the new document is welcome and does suggest greater transparency on process. It looks, perhaps not accidentally, like a mini framework and there is a sense that Ofsted is attempting to ease the continuing tension between its role in the formal inspection of academies and reviewing the direct part that MATs play in the quality of education.
At the core of the revised regime is a two-stage process. Under stage one, Ofsted will carry out 'batched inspections', inspecting under section five or section eight, as applicable, some of the individual academies within the MAT. Importantly, the new approach offers more flexibility around scheduling so that, although in some cases the inspections could take place within the same week, it is also possible for them to be stretched out over as long as two terms. Stage two occurs after the publication of those inspection reports – again, this is seen as a key improvement as it will enable the MAT to reflect properly on the findings from the batched inspections. The second stage will include meeting with MAT personnel, site visits to academies and telephone surveys with any academies not inspected under stage one. Ofsted draws on those findings to ultimately produce the summary evaluation letter which will follow a prescribed format and highlight areas of strength and improvement. The outcome is solely narrative as opposed to any graded judgement but will be published on Ofsted’s website.
Away from the detail of the process which can be found in the 17 pages of the operational note, some interesting points are:
Paragraph 39 of the operational note sets out a list of areas upon which inspectors are likely to concentrate and is certainly worth referring to. Paragraph 35 also highlights the type of evidence that will be relevant. Neither list is exhaustive. There is no expectation that evidence is prepared in a certain format for the purpose of the process but this is very clearly the MAT’s opportunity to present evidence beyond that which has been obtained by inspectors under stage one in order to demonstrate areas of focus, the impact the MAT is having across its academies and the overall quality of education.
Notwithstanding the new name and 'framework', there is still merit in looking back at Ofsted’s findings under the focused inspections regime. We know, for example, that Ofsted sees strength where MATs are able to identify their 'weaknesses', the solutions they have in place to tackle areas of improvement, how these solutions are being implemented and then subsequently monitored. When it comes to strategy, performance, structure and impact, there are various trigger questions which MATs may want to ask themselves in preparation. For example:
These are merely a sample of considerations which you would encourage MATs to reflect on but demonstrate the point that ultimately Ofsted is continuing to review whether your MAT is an effective organisation.
As summary evaluations occur, we will continue to monitor the outcome letters to ensure any trends feed into our advice, consultancy services and training for MATs.
To date, only one summary evaluation has been published. In that case, the MAT was credited, amongst other areas, for:
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