Ofsted and Academization
Legal framework of academies
Educational provision in UK’s state schools are funded directly by the government or through the local authorities and are monitored by the Office for Standards in Education Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted). Ofsted assesses the quality of educational provision through a system referred to as inspections.
Section 117 of The Education and Inspection Act (EIA) 2006, provides the statutory framework under which Ofsted performs its functions. The Education Inspection framework (EIF) further sets out how inspections are carried out.
Two main types of inspections
Sections 5 & 8 of The Education Act 2005 defines the main types of inspections carried out by Ofted. A section 5 inspection assesses: the quality of education, behavior and attitudes, personal development, leadership and management, and it’s overall effectiveness. Based on the assessment, the institution will be assigned a rating on the spectrum of outstanding, good, satisfactory and requiring improvement.
A section 8 inspection is normally carried out to assess issues such as behavioral concerns or those arising from parental complaints that may not require an assessment of the institution’s overall effectiveness. However, based on the data gleaned during the inspection, for example if serious safeguarding issues are highlighted, Ofsted may convert a section 8 inspection to a section 5.
Consequently, once a school has been notified that they will be inspected under section 8, they may be allowed to defer with adequate notice.
Therefore, if a school is inspected under section 5, its rating may be upgraded to “outstanding” or downgraded to “requiring improvements”; while, a section 8 inspection will have no impact on the overall rating of the school if the inspection is not converted to a section 5. Schools are therefore generally more concerned about a section 5 inspection and will work to ensure that “their ducks are in a row” prior to the inspector’s arrival.
The conversion process
If after a section 5 inspection a school is rated “requiring improvements”, in line with section 61 or 62 of the EIA 2006, the school will require intervention by a body external of its governing board to assist in raising its standards. Section 61 or 61 of the EIA therefore empowers Ofsted to issue an “academy order”, pursuant to section 4 of The Academy Act 2010, mandating the institution to convert to an academy trust.
In effect, the process of academisation is entrenched in law, and can only be reversed at the discretion of the courts, as reflected in the recent ruling in R v Governing body of Yew Tree Primary school. Ultimately, though it may appear that many schools are being incentivized to academize, one asserts the institution may have little choice.
Progress of academization
The government published its white paper in March 22, “The case for a fully trust led system”, noting that 80% of secondary schools and 39% of primary schools in the UK are being operated by an academy trust. This means, the focus is now on efficiency and accountability within these institutions, key drivers of academization.
Having worked in arguable one of the largest multi academy trust (MAT) in the UK, The Harris Federation, I strongly believe, though I know this is an unpopular view, that the model works to a large extent, for students. The focus, based on my experience, is on pupil progress and maximizing the best educational outcomes. However, the major pitfall for most academies is the impact of stringent policies and systems on teacher workload and wellbeing. On balance, and this may be the general consensus, the balance has not been struck.
This imbalance may therefore give credence to the view, that this is one of the key triggers for Ofsted’s recent downgrading of many previously rated “outstanding” academy trusts (both multi and single) to “good”. The LGA reports, as of January 2022, only 72% of academies maintained their outstanding ratings in comparison to 81% for council maintained schools following their last inspection.
However, as noted in the government’s white paper, the goal is for all state schools to be academized. Therefore, in order for the venture to operate in a sustainable manner, academies must find a way to improve teacher retention rates. It is therefore in the interest of all stakeholders that a balance between systems and teacher wellbeing is struck.
Location of academy trusts
The government’s white paper reports, 70% of academized secondary trusts are located in East of England while 50% in the south west. There are few consistent trends in the data to support the assertion that most SAT and MATs are located in regions with lower income households. However, consistent with national statistics, pupil progress and attainment in academies in more affluent regions are higher than those in less affluent regions.
Future of academies
The government white paper alludes that academies are the future framework for schools in the UK; it is cost effective to the government and arguably operates more efficiently than purely state funded schools. Therefore, it is vital the senior leadership teams develop sustainable strategies to engage with teachers, arguably one of its key stakeholder groups.
The data suggests, the rate of new entrants to the teaching profession has decreased by 10%, though the government has increased its spending on programs to attract more teachers. Trends suggests, almost 50% of teachers leave the profession before 10 years tenure, these figures infer that this industry has one of the highest turnover rates.
With growing discontent regarding systems and policies in academies, these figures may worsen. A healthy balance between systems and wellbeing must be found in order to attract and retain the most skilled teachers.
How can the balance be struck?
Developing proportionate and balanced responses within the robust systems of academies may be necessary to attract and maintain the most highly skilled workforce and ensure the success of academization.
These systems must be entrenched in the framework and policies of each school whether a member of an MAT or SAT. In effect, regardless of the nuances surrounding each institution, e.g. some schools may require higher levels of structure, school personnel should not be overwhelmed with dogmatic systems that add minuscule value to the institution, but is merely there as a checkbox exercise to drive the blinded goal of “consistency across schools”.
For example, many teachers within academies would agree that they work tirelessly to maximize pupil progress and has been successful in realizing meaningful outcomes for learners against a backdrop of challenges that are outside the institution’s control; however, in the interest of consistency there appears to be many systems which adds no value to the institution and as such, has negatively impacted teacher turnover rates, with figures upwards of 35%, in comparison to non academized council led schools that operates in similar circumstances with considerably lower turnover rates, in effect, contributing to their consistency in being the school of choice for parents.
I am sure there are a multiplicity of reasons one can allude that accounts for the variations in outcomes among different schools in a trust, however, history suggests a positive correlation between teacher turnover and outcomes.
There are no quick fixes, or one size fits all solution, however both domestic and internationally recruited teachers are becoming increasingly trepidatious about working within academies due to its rigid systems.
If academies manage to operate in a manner that balances its policies with the nuances of each school environment, more likely than not, teacher retention rates may increase and the sustainability of the venture of academization may be realized, as there is a strong possibility that with this balance, they may be more favorably viewed by this key stakeholder group.