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Ofsted should inspect academy chains, says schools minister

Ofsted should be given greater powers allowing it to inspect academy chains, schools minister David Laws has said, as the rift between him and his Conservative colleague Michael Gove deepened yet further this week.

Mr Laws called for the schools watchdog’s power to be extended, giving it full access into academy chains, just as it has with local authorities.

The Liberal Democrat’s comments are the latest in the growing spat between him and education secretary Michael Gove, after he was incensed by the education secretary's decision to dismiss Ofsted chair Baroness Sally Morgan.

Mr Laws was said to be “furious” over the decision to sack the Labour peer, and claimed that the move was an “attempt to politicise” the schools inspectorate.

And in an interview with The Independent on Thursday, Mr Laws criticised Mr Gove’s actions and gave his backing to Baroness Morgan’s time at Ofsted.

“I don’t think it is one of the best decisions that Michael Gove has ever made,” he said. “I personally think that Sally Morgan has done a fantastic job as chair of Ofsted. I would rather she had remained and had her term renewed.”

And the Lib Dem minister also demanded Ofsted’s reach should be extended into academy chains.

“There are some really good local authorities and there are still some terrible ones. In the same way, there are some good academy groups doing an absolutely fantastic job – like Ark and Harris – and some not doing so well,” he added.

“Ofsted must be able to shine a spotlight wherever it wants to. I don’t want there are to be any constraints. It ought to be able to inspect the chains.”

Mr Laws conceded legislation would be required to extend the watchdog’s powers, which would not come about before the general election, but he stated that the policy would be included in the Lib Dem’s 2015 manifesto.

Until now, the Department for Education has resisted calls to allow inspectors into academy chains, with academies minister Lord Nash stating that officials already held sufficient information on sponsors.

David Laws also shed light on a decision by his party to later this year spell out its key policy differences with the Conservatives, as it tries to differentiate itself within the coalition.

He admitted by doing so, it would be “tricky” to govern while involved in coalition in-fighting confirming school leaders’ fears that the profession will become “collateral damage” in the political jostling.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told TES on Tuesday: “The worry is that they will seek to use the profession to drive a further wedge between them and their opponents.”

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