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Norfolk schools cleared of receiving Ofsted inspection tip-off

Three Norfolk schools alleged to have been “improperly” tipped off ahead of Ofsted inspections were not given advance warning, an independent report has concluded.

Lawyer Julian Gizzi found that, “on the balance of probabilities, no-one associated with any of the three schools in question, Ormiston Victory Academy, Great Yarmouth Primary Academy and Thetford Academy, received more than the requisite half a day’s notice of the date of their inspection”.

An initial internal report by Sir Robin Bosher, Ofsted’s director of quality and training, into the tip-off claims concluded there was “no evidence” that the academies had been warned “to give them an unfair advantage”.

However, subsequent newspaper reports said that new emails had emerged which suggested that Dame Rachel de Souza, chief executive of the Inspiration Trust academy chain which runs the Thetford and Great Yarmouth schools, had been made aware of specific plans for inspection and advised staff to prepare accordingly.

In response, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw (pictured) ordered an independent investigation into the “serious” allegations.

In the latest report, Mr Gizzi, a partner at law firm DAC Beachcroft, concluded that Sir Robin had carried out his original investigation “with fairness and integrity”. He described Sir Robin’s investigation as “appropriate” and the conclusions he reached as “reasonable”.

However, the report refers to an “unfortunate coincidence of circumstances”, which led to relevant emails from Ormiston Victory being “inaccessible” on a disconnected server, minutes from senior leadership team meetings going “missing” and other emails being “irrevocably deleted by accident” from Dame Rachel’s account.

While Mr Gizzi received “acceptable explanations” for the missing emails, the whereabouts of the minutes “remains unclear” he said, adding: “The lack of these documents did hamper my investigation.”

In response to the report, Sir Michael today expressed concerns about “the extent to which some Norfolk schools were on such a high degree of ‘Ofsted readiness’ for weeks and even months before the inspection actually took place”.

“It’s very important that schools maintain a sense of proportion when preparing for an Ofsted inspection,” he added.

“In my experience, the best schools devote their energies to getting things right for their pupils, not for inspectors. Leaders should be focusing on making sure there is good teaching, robust assessment and a positive and respectful learning culture at their school. If they are attending well to these things then an Ofsted inspection will usually take care of itself.”

Inspiration Trust chairman Theodore Agnew said the report’s findings were “excellent news”. “There were no tip-offs and both the Inspiration Trust and Rachel de Souza are innocent of these false accusations,” he added.

“The Inspiration Trust is a small organisation founded by people dedicated to bringing the best possible education to children in Norfolk. We are simply unused to dealing with the preoccupations of the London-based media and we are unclear why our efforts and the genuine achievement of our staff warranted such harassment and inaccurate reporting.”

Related stories:

Ofsted launches new investigation into inspection tip-off claims - October 2014

Head was 'mistakenly' warned ahead of inspection, Ofsted admits - September 2014

Ofsted launches wave of no-notice inspections - September 2014

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