Ofsted's chief inspector has issued a stinging attack on the quality of England's academy chains and the lack of intervention from the government's regional schools commissioners (RSCs) over coasting schools.
Sir Michael Wilshaw said the inspectorate had “struggled” to find more than half a dozen high-performing academy chains for a report due out later in the summer, branding the majority as “mediocre”.
And he raised concerns that RSCs were not intervening early enough in schools causing concern, and which were at risk of falling into special measures.
Sir Michael was appearing alongside Sir David Carter, national schools commissioner, in front of the Commons education select committee, giving evidence on multi-academy trusts (MATs).
During his appearance, the outgoing chief inspector gave a blunt assessment of the performance of the academy chains.
He said there was evidence of “empire building” among the seven worst performing MATs, rather than a focus on boosting standards.
“When we looked at these seven failing [academy chains], they had what I called a Walmart philosophy,” Sir Michael said. “You know, pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap. It was empire building rather than having the capacity to improve these schools.”
When asked whether there were enough good MATs in the system, Sir David said it was one of the “challenges” but added there were enough good leaders.
But Sir Michael disagreed. There was not enough strong leadership to handle the additional autonomy placed into leaders' hands, nor were there enough good MATs.
“We undertook a survey of good MATs, and we were really struggling to find them,” he said. “We have established that there are about half a dozen, but there are a lot of mediocre trusts and the more rebrokering taking place, the more David will find it really difficult to find good trusts to take them on.”
'Stop standards slipping further'
Sir Michael also took a swipe at how well the RSCs were functioning when it came to stepping in to prevent standards in schools slipping further.
“If there’s a disagreement between Ofsted and RSCs it’s about early intervention,” Sir Michael said. “All my regional directors have written letters to RSCs about our concerns about 'requires improvement' academies, coasting academies, that will fall in to special measures unless action is taken early enough. And that’s the big concern I have with RSCs, that nothing will happen with coasting schools.”
Sir David said the headteacher boards that provide support to RSCs do go in to support individual schools that are causing concern.
“For the record they do do this,” Sir David said. “They do work with the individual schools and they do report back about what is happening.”
MPs also asked whether the data around the RSCs' key performance indicators would be published.
Sir David said: “In the spirit of transparency, I don’t see why we shouldn’t do that but it will be a decision ministers will have to make.”