MATs' attack on Ofsted sparks academy 'gaming' claim

Ex-Ofsted director says changes were needed to stop schools 'hollowing out' the curriculum by focusing on exam technique

John Roberts

Luke Tryl, a former Ofsted director, has defended its new inspections as being necessary to stop MATs gaming their league table rankings

A former senior Ofsted official has hit back against multi-academy trusts' criticism of its new curriculum-focused inspections by claiming they were needed to stop academy chains “gaming and inflating their league table positions”.

Luke Tryl, who was Ofsted’s  director of corporate strategy until last year, has rejected claims made by Harris Federation and Outwood Grange Academies Trust chief executives that the new inspection framework favours middle-class pupils.

In a series of strongly worded posts on social media, he said that Ofsted’s inspection changes were necessary because "more than a handful of seemingly high-performing schools had got their results off the back of hollowing out the curriculum".

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Mr Tryl said it was "intellectual snobbery" to suggest that children from disadvantaged backgrounds should not have access to the same curriculum as other pupils.

Ofsted inspection changes

However, a leading headteacher at the Harris Federation has responded by saying that it is "farcical" to accuse the trust of "intellectual snobbery" and also rejected any suggestion that Harris schools hollow out their curriculum.

The row  is over the impact of Ofsted’s new school inspections, which started in September, and which place greater emphasis on the quality of the school's curriculum and less emphasis on exam results.

The leaders of both the Harris Federation and Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT) raised concerns, saying that secondary schools were being marked down by the watchdog for running GCSEs over three years rather than two. 

They also warned that Ofsted's decision to place more weight on curriculum than exam results would not work for disadvantaged pupils.

Sir Daniel Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, said: “It is a middle-class [inspection] framework for middle-class kids.”

But Mr Tryl, who was working in a senior role at Ofsted when the new inspection framework was being developed, has hit back.

Responding on Twitter to a headline that suggested Ofsted’s inspection framework would "punish the poorest children", he said: “Total nonsense. [It] should read: Ofsted takes long overdue steps to stop academy chains gaming and inflating their league table positions by denying disadvantaged kids a whole year of studying arts, history, geography and languages.

“And the argument that kids from disadvantaged backgrounds shouldn’t get the same opportunities to study these subjects is a form of gross intellectual snobbery I thought was on the decline in our education system. Sadly not.

"And the truth is there are more than a handful of seemingly high performing schools [that] have got their results off the back of hollowing out the curriculum, spending a whole year not teaching new things but teaching 'exam technique'.

“That leaves kids from disadvantaged backgrounds in a far worse position when it comes to university and the workplace, because they simply haven’t been taught as much, again because some of their schools have prioritised their league table positions over actual teaching."

Responding to Mr Tryl's comments, Nick Soar, an executive principal at the Harris Federation, said: "To accuse us of ‘gross intellectual snobbery’, when we are one of the few schools' groups in the country achieving above-average outcomes for disadvantaged children, is farcical.

"As for offering a ‘hollowed out curriculum’, the federation has had six inspections in the past three months and no such thing was found.

"Despite our disadvantaged intake, the EBacc entry rate at Harris is 1.6 times the national average, with more than twice the proportion of students at Harris going to Russell Group universities than elsewhere across the country."

Last week a blog by Ofsted’s national director of education, Sean Harford, insisted that Ofsted did not have a preferred length of key stage 3 and would not automatically mark schools down for shortening it.

However he also warned against schools simply pulling all GCSE teaching forward over three years.

And responding to Harris and OGAT’s comments last week, Mr Harford said: “A narrowed curriculum has a disproportionately negative effect on the most disadvantaged pupils, who often start school behind their peers and without the benefit of cultural experiences that other children take for granted.

"We have, therefore, been very clear that we expect to see a broad and ambitious curriculum in all the schools we inspect, and our inspectors will be particularly alert to any signs of curriculum narrowing."

A Tes exclusive last week revealed that another multi-academy trust leader believed Ofsted had used a school’s focus on achieving academic success as a stick to beat it with during an inspection under the new framework.

Michael Gosling, of Trinity MAT, said staff at one of his trust’s schools, Akroydon Primary in a deprived area of Halifax, felt that Ofsted’s inspection framework had been “drawn up on a middle-class dinner table”.



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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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