‘Inconsistent’ academy chain may have numbers capped by Ofsted

The government is considering “capping” the number of schools that an academy chain, which has today been criticised by Ofsted, can take on.

The Collaborative Academies Trust (CAT) is the second chain, or multi-academy trust, to receive a “focused inspection” from Ofsted and the second to receive serious criticism from the inspectorate.

Ofsted found that CAT was having an “inconsistent and limited” impact on pupils’ achievement and that too many of the trust’s academies had not improved since joining.

A Department for Education spokesperson told TES that officials had not ruled out “capping” the trust, and would look carefully at this summer’s exam and test results from its academies.

Ofsted’s verdict follows its report last month on the Oasis chain of 44 academies, which found that a “legacy of weak challenge” meant too many of its schools were not “improving quickly enough”.

Both findings will raise further questions about the government’s vast expansion of the academies programme, which will involve chains being expected to take on hundreds of “failing” and “coasting” schools.

CAT was set up in 2012 by Edison Learning, an US company that has pioneered running state schools for a profit in the UK. The trust operates as a not-for-profit charity, although its parent company has sold services to hundreds of state schools in England.

Ofsted inspectors visited, or spoke to senior leaders at nine of the trust’s academies – all but one of them primaries.

At the time of the inspections in March, there were no good or outstanding academies in the chain. And only one of five academies that had received a full inspection since joining the trust had improved its inspection grade.

Ofsted’s inspection letter, published today, says: “The consequence of academies not improving quickly enough is that the trust’s impact on pupils’ achievement is inconsistent and limited.”

It adds that there is no evidence across the trust that the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is closing or that the needs of more able students are being met.

However, there are “early signs of improvement”, it states. For example, systems for supporting and challenging individual academies are improving.

CAT chief executive Kevin Crossley said the report did not highlight any areas for development of which the trust was unaware.

“When we set up our multi-academy trust in 2012 we deliberately took on troubled schools working in challenging circumstances,” he said. “Therefore we knew that improvements would take time to realise.”

The methodology for inspecting multi-academy trusts needs “further refinement if Ofsted is to provide a balanced view of the many trusts working in challenging circumstances”, he added.

The trust’s board had decided not to take on any more schools this academic year but expected further growth in 2015-16, Mr Crossley added.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are working with the Collaborative Academy Trust to ensure it has a robust action plan in place to help make improvements so that all children in its schools can reach their full potential.”

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