Deeds not words please, Mr Hinds

So, the new Secretary of State has proclaimed his support for faith schools. Not surprising in view of his own education. Well, here is a challenge to Mr Hinds. Will he separate out schools run by faith groups with public money, but attended by a majority not professing the faith actively, and those schools run by the faith for their adherents?

The Church of England has long operated primary schools as the local schools for the village or community the school serves. As a national church and also the provider of education in many of these areas before the State became involved this has some rationale behind it. Parents in general value these schools, although many may be under threat from the new National Funding Formula unless enough attention is paid to their fortunes.

My question to the Secretary of State can be crystallised around the experiences of the Roman Catholic secondary school in East Oxford: St Gregory the Great. This school, according to the accounts of the Academy Company it is a part of, had only 30% professing Catholic Staff and 37% of its pupils as Catholics at the reporting point for the 2017 accounts. Two years ago, the school was put into financial special measures by the EFSC; last year Ofsted declared it inadequate. Another school run by the same Academy Company has recently also been declared inadequate. This week, when Ofsted paid a monitoring visit to St Gregory the Great, they will have found a school where the head and a deputy were removed at the end of the autumn term and another head placed in executive control from a different Catholic Academy Trust. So, Mr Hinds, how long do you give St Gregory the Great to improve and what are your plans if the Catholic Church cannot improve the school? The parents of non-Catholic pupils have a right to know what you are going to do to improve the education of their children. Will it have access to part of your £45 million fund?

You cannot blame the local authority. Indeed, you can look at the steps the local authority took to deal with another secondary school in the county declared inadequate at the same time as St Gregory the Great (see blog post, The outcomes seem to be very different. Can the local authority access your fund as part of helping schools improve if no MAT volunteers to do so?

Mr Hinds, St Gregory the Great and the future of the Academy Company it belongs to, provide an early test of whether what you say in The Times newspaper are words not backed by actions or have the force of someone prepared to act on their beliefs.

I am passionate to see good education for all children in Oxfordshire. I hope you will help me achieve this aim by acting swiftly to raise standards at St Gregory the Great. By your actions shall you be known. A Minister of Education in the 1940s once intervened because a school wasn’t holding a daily assembly, despite its hall having been bombed and out of use. Intervene in St Gregory and reassure everyone the plan for improvement is workable. You can have the Ofsted report on your desk by Monday if you ask for it following their monitoring visit this week.




Ofsted inspects academy chains

Until Monday afternoon I was under the illusion that Ofsted didn’t inspect academy chains. I knew that it did inspect the schools that were under the control of academy chains, but not, I believed, the management of the chain responsible for the schools. This was unlike the situation with local authorities, where Ofsted has the power to inspect, and has exercised it regularly over recent years.

However, the Hansard record of Education Questions in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon shows how wrong I was. In answer to a question from a Labour member, as to whether it was time to inspect academy chains, Mr Gove, our literary mastermind masquerading as Secretary of State for Education, replied with the statement that:

Michael Gove: Ofsted already inspects academy chains. It has inspected both E-ACT and AET.’

Now assuredly, Mr Gove already knew when taking Education Questions that Ofsted would be publishing a damming report the following day on the standard of education at many schools in the E-ACT chain; and would put several of the chain’s schools into special measures. Possibly the most damming feature of the Ofsted report was the assertion by the heads of at least some of the schools inspected said that the academy chain had required them to top-slice their Pupil Premium cash and remit the top-slice to the administration. This was the very policy that local authorities were castigated for and the reason why budgets were taken away from them and handed directly to schools. In this instance, it wasn’t even apparent to the school leaders how the cash top-sliced had been used to further the aims behind the Pupil Premium scheme of helping with the improvement of the education of disadvantaged pupils.

As Ofsted put the fact in their letter to E-ACT that: During the inspections, senior staff informed inspectors that E-ACT had, until 1 September 2013, deducted a proportion of the pupil premium funding from each academy. It is unclear how these deducted funds are being used to improve outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

You can read the Ofsted letter to E-Act here: file:///C:/Users/John/Downloads/E-ACT%20Multi-Academy%20Trust%20inspection%20outcome%20letter.pdf

If Ofsted has also inspected the academy chain, as the Secretary of State said, then no doubt there is another report waiting to be published that will clear up the issue of what happened to this Pupil Premium money, and how large the transfer of cash actually was over what might have been a two or three year period. Should the chain be expected to repay this cash to the schools concerned, and also, in this present litigious culture, are lawyers already looking to see whether pupils whose education was regarded as unsatisfactory have a legal case against the chain under some aspect of the civil law that they might not have against a public authority undertaking the same duty?