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Ofsted must be granted powers to inspect academy chains, MPs say

Ofsted should be allowed to inspect academy chains to ensure their schools are providing a high enough quality of education to their students, an influential panel of MPs has said.

The Commons Education Select Committee has called on the government to hand the schools watchdog the powers to inspect academies chains, just as they do with local authorities.

Ministers have so far resisted calls to allow Ofsted into academy providers, but they face renewed pressure after the select committee published a report today urging the Department for Education to rethink. 

In giving evidence to the committee in July, schools minister Lord Nash said the DfE had no plans to change its current policy because it already held enough information about individual academies. 

“Right at this moment, we do not feel they [Ofsted inspections] would be of any benefit to the Department,” Lord Nash said. “We would rather Ofsted focused on its other activities, which are extensive. We have plenty of evidence on the performance of academy chains from Ofsted’s detailed inspections of the underlying schools.

“We actively are in dialogue with all academy chains and their management on a regular basis. Our education advisers visit schools that are performing poorly, and we have plenty of intervention levers. At the moment, we do not feel that Ofsted inspecting the chain, as opposed to the underlying schools, would give us any information we do not have materially at the moment.”

However, in its report, the committee said Ofsted reports would provide vital information to parents about the performance of chains, not just to the DfE.

“We conclude that parents should be provided with information about the performance of academy chains, as well as individual schools,” the report states. “We recommend that Ofsted be provided with the powers it needs to inspect academy chains.”

Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has already spoken of his desire to be allowed into academy chains, telling the select committee in February that it was “only fair” that chains should be subject to inspections just as local authorities are.

“We will be inspecting local authorities and we should inspect academy chains as well, if we identify underperformance,” Sir Michael said. “I have made that clear to the Secretary of State. It is only fair and equitable that we do that. We have not got the same powers at the moment, but I look forward to receiving the powers to do that.”

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