Stop experimenting on pupils, academy leaders demand

Replace Ofsted and reverse exam reforms, says new manifesto

Richard Vaughan

Leading academy headteachers have called for the replacement of Ofsted with a new regulatory body and the reversal of the government's "so-called exam reforms".

The Independent Academies Association (IAA) -which represents about a quarter of academies in England - also railed against treating students like "guinea pigs" in reforming the curriculum and assessment system.

The proposals were put forward in a strongly worded manifesto produced by the IAA, which calls for Ofsted and the Education Funding Agency (EFA) to be replaced with a single regulatory body. The recommendations will chime with many school leaders, who believe that Ofsted is in need of reform and that changes to the curriculum and exam system have hit schools hard.

Referring to recent criticisms of the quality of Ofsted's inspection teams, Nick Weller, chair of the IAA, said that a new inspectorate had to be created in the interests of "value for money" and maintaining "better standards".

He added that the EFA - which is charged with monitoring the spending of academies, university technical colleges and free schools - had been "too focused on ticking every box and getting people to jump through every hoop".

"What it should be focusing on is rooting out poor practice," he said. "The regulatory regime should be based more around external audits than policing by the EFA."

Mr Weller's comments came just days after the former chair of Ofsted, and Labour peer, Baroness Sally Morgan said the country was suffering from a "rushed revolution", with academies experiencing "patchy" results.

Last month, one of the country's largest academy chains, E-Act, was handed a second financial notice to improve by the EFA because "significant weaknesses" had been found in its financial controls.

However, Mr Weller, who is also executive principal of the Dixons Academies in Bradford, reserved his strongest comments for the government's reforms to the curriculum and assessment system. He said that the exams watchdog Ofqual had "lost all credibility among the profession".

"There has been too much reform, too quickly," he said. "New changes have been brought in before the effects of those changes have been properly thought through and that is going to damage the performance of the most disadvantaged students."

He pointed to the "wild variability" of exam results this year as evidence that there had been too much change.

The recommendations are to be tabled at the IAA's annual conference in London next week. Recent calls made by right-leaning thinktank Policy Exchange for a "fully academised" school system will also be discussed.

However, Liam Nolan, executive headteacher of the Perry Beeches Academy Trust, which runs three schools in Birmingham, said he would be reluctant to see Ofsted merged with the EFA as he felt they worked best when acting independently.

"Ofsted has seen its remit grow over a number of years and its original concept of inspecting schools has been watered down," Mr Nolan said. "I think it worked best when it was in its purest form. It would better if it was tightened up rather than merged with another organisation, otherwise it risks being watered down even more.

"Both it and the EFA have very distinctive roles and they would both suffer if they were joined together."

The Department for Education declined to comment on the manifesto.

Meet and greet

This year's Independent Academies Association awards dinner and conference, aimed at leaders of primary and secondary academies and free schools, will take place on 9 October at the Park Plaza Riverbank hotel in London, with TES as media partner. Lord Adonis and Lucy Heller will be among the contributors to a programme of speeches, round-table discussions and workshops. For more information, visit

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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