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How multi-academy trusts are involved in school inspections


This report explores multi-academy trusts’ responsibilities and how we evaluate their work in our inspections of their schools. It presents a picture of how inspectors and trust leaders view the role of the trust in the school inspection system.

We analysed responses from a survey of 105 His Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) who had recently inspected schools within trusts. We also carried out 11 semi-structured interviews with trust chief executive officers (CEOs) or their representatives. This report does not represent the ways in which every trust has been involved in inspection, as there is wide diversity in how trusts operate.

This report shows that trusts are an important part of school inspection and have some involvement at each part of the process. The trusts we spoke to saw their role in inspection as supporting the school’s senior staff. However, the extent of this varied according to how much support they deemed that the school needed. Inspectors and trust leaders valued their interaction during inspection, and through this interaction it was possible to explore some of the trusts’ work across the areas of the education inspection framework (EIF).

There are several ways that trusts are involved with their schools, such as strategic leadership decisions, curriculum development, managing behaviour and enhancing pupils’ personal development. However, school inspections only evaluate the school and not the trust. Therefore, there is a limit to the extent to which inspectors can report on the work of trusts, and they cannot always explicitly acknowledge the influence of a trust in a school inspection.

Summary of findings

Conversations with trusts are an integral part of a school’s inspection: every school inspection of an academy includes discussions with trust leaders on the leadership and governance of the school. All trust leaders saw their role as supporting the headteacher and senior leaders during an inspection.

However, the fact that Ofsted’s legal powers require inspection to operate at school level can leave the role of the trust in inspection unclear, causing frustration for trust leaders and inspectors.

Trust leaders and inspectors highlighted that inspection at school level does not hold the trust sufficiently accountable or attribute enough credit to the trust’s work.

Inspections showed the wide-ranging leadership role of trusts that reflected the diversity of aims, structures and responsibilities in the trust sector. Trust leaders said that they were always involved in strategic school leadership decisions, regardless of their operating model.

Inspections cover the influential role that trusts have in the quality of education in their schools. The trusts we spoke to were always involved in designing the curriculum. Trust leaders worked with school leaders to develop a curriculum that worked for the school, regardless of their operating model

Inspectors recognised the role of many trusts in setting expectations for teaching, and in reinforcing and managing behaviour. Trust leaders emphasised the benefits of being able to use experts employed by the trust to manage behaviour throughout trust schools.

Trusts often set the strategic vision for personal development and use trust resources to provide opportunities for pupils. Trust leaders emphasised the role of the trust in the community.

In 2019, our research in 41 trusts found that some trusts had very little involvement in overseeing the quality of education. This new research found that trusts were increasingly working across their schools to develop their curriculum.

How we carried out our research

We surveyed 172 inspectors who led inspections of trust schools between September 2021 and April 2022, to identify the role of trusts in their evaluations of those academy schools. We had 105 responses to the survey, a response rate of 60%. We then held semi-structured interviews with a sample of 11 trust leaders. The trust leaders we spoke to in this research were mostly CEOs, but included some trustees.

We acknowledge that our sample of trust leaders is small and therefore our findings cannot represent the views of trusts as a whole. Our sample covered trusts with a range of characteristics: trusts with mostly secondary schools, primary schools, special schools, or faith schools; national trusts; a range of geographical spreads; or a range of numbers of schools.

Read more here.

Sector Response

Tom Middlehurst, Curriculum, Assessment and Inspection Specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“This research makes clear that, while trusts are involved throughout the inspection process, their exact role varies greatly and is not well defined due to the legal requirement for Ofsted to inspect at school level. This is frustrating for trust leaders who are responsible for the education provided in their schools, including providing the necessary support and changes in the case of an inadequate or requires improvement judgement from Ofsted.

“In the short term, it is essential that trust leaders are involved at an appropriate level in school inspections, to more accurately reflect where decisions are made and where responsibility sits. In the longer term, considering the government’s ambition for all schools to be part of a strong trust, we should be considering a system which formally inspects groups of schools.

“An integral part of getting this system right will be ensuring inspectors have relevant expertise and we suggest the lead inspector of any future trust inspection should themselves have experience of having led a trust. It is also essential that any move towards trust inspection doesn’t increase the workload of leaders and teachers.

“Any new approach to inspection will take time to develop. We would like to see the Department for Education fund Ofsted to pilot trust inspections to help establish whether a single set of standards can work equally well for trusts of different sizes, and how such inspections might sit alongside or replace school inspections. This should form part of a broader review of whether or not Ofsted is fit for purpose, given other concerns about the way in which the inspectorate currently operates.”

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