Exclusive: Ofsted ‘not the team to inspect MATs', says Carter

Former schools tsar Sir David Carter says the extra layer of accountability would 'create other problems'

Sir David Carter, national schools commissioner

Ofsted are “not the team to inspect” multi-academy trusts, the former national schools commissioner has said.

Sir David Carter said that if the inspectorate was asked to do the job, it would “ratchet up” accountability pressure and create new problems.

Ofsted does not have the formal power to inspect multi-academy trusts (MATs). But it has carried out simultaneous inspections of a number of schools within a particular trust, and published letters that draw conclusions about its effectiveness. 

And earlier this year Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman pledged to put MATs under greater scrutiny when it carried out those school inspections.

But Sir David told Tes that the tools were already in place to hold MATs to account, and that getting Ofsted to inspect school chains was the “wrong way” to address the problem of failing trusts.

My view is on the record that Ofsted are not the team to inspect MATs,” he said. “I think Ofsted has to be the regulator of school standards, and I think that’s a huge job to get right.”

Sir David said he understood the desire in some quarters for Ofsted inspection of MATs: “Why people are keen and say, ‘OK, well if we inspect MATs you wouldn’t have seen some of the catastrophes we’ve seen.'”

However, he said that “adding the complexity of MAT inspection” on top of Ofsted’s existing duties, and creating a “new inspection framework for what is a very, very small minority of trusts that go wrong, just seems to be the wrong way round it”.

Ofsted 'shouldn't inspect academy trusts'

Sir David said that getting Ofsted to inspect MATs was not just unnecessary, but could actually create additional problems.

“The means by which you hold these trusts to account are already there, in terms of what the [regional schools commissioners] can do, what the Education and Skills Funding Agency can do, and what the Department for Education can do, because the DfE has the funding agreement – the contract effectively with the trust.

“It’s one of the reasons why I’m nervous about the idea that we bring another layer accountability to that.

“For those people who are affected directly by trusts that fail, I absolutely get that. That’s just not on, that’s not acceptable.

“But I also worry that when your drive more accountability into it, you ratchet up the pressure two or three more notches. You may well end up reducing some of those problems, but I think you create other problems in the system. We have to walk that line very carefully.”

In September 2017, Ofsted said it wanted to change inspection legislation to allow it to inspect MATs. Under existing legislation, Ofsted can conduct batch inspections of the schools that make up MATs, but not the trusts themselves.

In August, Sir David stood down after two and a half years as national schools commissioner, during which he was responsible for overseeing more than 7,000 academies.

Sir David’s time as national schools commissioner was marked by disputes between his team of RSCs and Ofsted about their respective roles and responsibilities.

He told Tes that the relationship between RSCs and Ofsted would be an “ongoing” debate in education.

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