The Ofsted chief inspector has highlighted “serious weaknesses” at multi-academy trusts, where he claims many schools are "failing the poorest children".
In a damning letter to the education secretary Nicky Morgan today, Sir Michael Wilshaw has called the findings of inspections across seven large multi-academy trusts (MATs) “worrying”.
The outgoing head of Ofsted claimed that one chief executive blamed parents for pupils’ poor attendance that was affecting their performance.
Sir Michael said: "Despite having operated for a number of years, many of the trusts manifested the same weaknesses as the worst-performing local authorities and offered the same excuses."
'Many academies are failing their poorest children'
The comments will come as a blow to the government, which has been promoting academies and MATs as one solution to the increasingly atomised education system.
Sir Michael added: "Given the impetus of the academies programme to bring about rapid improvement, it is of great concern that we are not seeing this in these seven MATs and that, in some cases, we have even seen decline.
"Given that the academies movement was initiated principally to improve the performance of disadvantaged pupils, it is particularly concerning that many of the academies in these trusts are failing their poorest children."
The head of Ofsted, who will stand down later this year, also stressed that salary levels for the chief executives of these MATs "do not appear to be commensurate with the level of performance of their trusts or constituent academies."
The average pay of the chief executives in the seven trusts is higher than the prime minister’s salary, according to the letter, with one chief executive’s salary reaching £225,000.
He concluded saying: "If we are to improve national standards in an increasingly autonomous system, much more needs to be done to reduce the variation in standards between the best and the worst academy trusts."
The letter to the education secretary comes on the same day that the inspection findings at the School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA) were revealed.
The SPTA has been told to "urgently improve the impact of work to improve outcomes for pupils, particularly in secondary academies that are not yet 'good'."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This report is focused on seven chains that Ofsted has identified as causing them the most concern. It is a partial and skewed picture and no reflection on the success of the Multi-Academy Trust model as a whole. “No child should spend a single day in a failing school and work is already underway in all of these cases with Regional School Commissioners challenging these chains to show how they will improve and where that is not happening taking swift action – a sharp contrast to days when underperforming schools were left to languish under local authority schools."