White Paper: Failing schools to get Ofsted holiday after take-overs by academy chains

Change follows MAT concerns about lack of clean slate for failing academies

Academy sponsors that take over a school judged as “requires improvement” will benefit from an Ofsted holiday, with no further inspections of the school until the third year, the Department for Education has announced.

The measure, part of the schools white paper published today, aims to prevent good headteachers and academy chains from steering clear of failing schools on the basis that a bad Ofsted judgement within a short time period could damage their reputation.

A statement from the department said the move would “give heads the chance to bring about real improvement and change before being inspected again.” “Ofsted will not reinspect until their third year,” it stated.

Sources said academy chains and headteachers’ groups had told ministers that good leaders were deterred from taking over difficult schools because they did not think they would be given enough time to make improvements before a visit from Ofsted, whose judgement could be “career-damaging” for a headteacher.

The pressure to receive a good judgement also led some headteachers to put in place “short term gimmick fixes” rather than sustainable reforms, they said.

It comes after Lucy Heller, chief executive of the Ark academy trust, told TES that the schools system “militates against” academy chains taking over failing academies because of the Ofsted pressure.

She said the system was “uneven so academy groups are given more incentives to take over failing maintained schools, rather than failing academies”.

This was because the process of converting a maintained school to academy status gave the trust a fresh start, with previous Ofsted results not applying to the school, she said.

Ms Heller, whose trust runs 34 schools, told TES last week, before the new measures were announced: “In many cases they [failing academies] need to go to another home, they need to be re-brokered.

“The system militates against that because at the moment the department treats schools moving from one system to another differently from one school moving to become an academy.

“The fact that an Ofsted rating carries on between the two isn’t helpful in terms of easing the process,” she said.

“If you’re taking over a failing school, it takes time to turn things around. You want to be given space to do that. If you take on an Ofsted rating – which isn’t what happens with maintained schools – you’re less likely to take on an academy. Given the choice, you’ll take on a maintained school.”

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