An academy trust sponsored by the University of Chester has been criticised for standards in its schools and high exclusion rates, following a focused review by Ofsted.
The report, published today, comes as the government considers responses to its proposals for universities to sponsor or set up new schools in exchange for charging higher tuition fees.
The University of Chester Academies Trust (UCAT), which sponsors three primary and four secondary schools, had previously received a pre-warning notice from the Department for Education in April 2014.
In her letter to UCAT chief executive Linda Rowe, inspector Margaret Farrow said: “School improvement strategies developed in the first five years of the trust’s existence failed to deliver the necessary improvements in pupils’ outcomes. Where improvements did occur, they were unsustainable because they were too dependent on external support.”
Three UCAT schools were inspected between November 8-9, and all were judged “requires improvement”. One had previously been in special measures, as had another’s predecessor school, before it joined the trust.
The inspectorate said standards were below average in two of the primaries, and three of the secondaries, and criticised progress made by disadvantaged pupils.
No hiding place
Ms Farrow described exclusions as “too high” at two of the primaries, and permanent exclusions as “unacceptably high” at University Primary Academy Kidsgrove, while fixed-period and permanent exclusion rates were “unacceptably high” in two secondary schools.
Her letter added: “It is most worrying that this is particularly the case for boys, disadvantaged pupils and pupils who have special educational needs and/or disabilities.”
In one secondary school, 15 per cent of pupils had one or more fixed-period exclusions, compared to just under 4 per cent nationally.
However, the report also highlighted improvements since the trust made “significant changes” to leadership at board, chief executive, governor, principal and staff levels over the past two years.
Ofsted said Ms Rowe’s work to improve leadership and management across the trust was “beginning to bear fruit”, and her appointment in September 2015 had been “instrumental in the significant changes currently taking place”.
The letter added: “The trust is now taking effective action, but it is too soon to see the impact of its work on trust-wide improvement in pupils’ outcomes.”
It highlighted improved assessment procedures which meant “there is no hiding place for underachievement or concerns”, greater collaboration between the academies, and positive feedback from external partners.
UCAT and the Department for Education have been approached for comment.
In a statement, UCAT said the review “recognises the positive direction that the trust is now taking to improve outcomes across all of its academies”.
It said that work was already underway to address Ofsted’s recommendations, including the university providing “further targeted opportunities for professional development for teachers”, and that its principals were working together to reduce absence rates and exclusions.
It added: “The University of Chester, as sponsor of UCAT, is fully committed to ensuring the recommendations set out in the review are addressed rapidly.”
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