On the day that the Ofsted report of Ellesmere Port Catholic High School (EPCHS) report was finally published which we reported upon here we coincidentally (and presciently) received this startling in-depth analysis of Ofsted and their approach to North West Local Authority Schools which is essential reading in relation to the ongoing Tom Quinn/Frank Field Education Trust story. Now with the publication of the Ofsted report the questions raised below now take on even greater significance.
Ofsted has downgraded North West Local Authority Schools with better performance data than academies in Multi Academy Trusts (MATs). This may benefit Multi Academy Trusts in the longer term who will be able to absorb LA schools into their Trusts.
The UCEA Academy reopened as the Ellesmere Port C of E College on 1st December 2018 with an interim CEO, Tom Quinn. Quinn’s main school was Plessington on the Wirral. Quinn’s first (and now former) Trust, The Holy Family Catholic Multi Academy Trust, also runs St Mary’s Catholic College. For a short time, Quinn was CEO of two Trusts from December 2018 until Thursday 18th April 2019. Quinn is also a member of a select group of secondary Head teachers who advise and influence the Department of Education’s policy development.
Frank Field MP set up the Frank Field Trust which was approved to take over the UCEA Academy in Ellesmere Port on 20th September 2018 by the West Midlands Regional Schools’ Commissioner (RSC) and Head teacher’s Board. The new National Schools Commissioner (NSC), Dominic Herrington, was a guest at that meeting, so at the very least, was aware of the decision. Last September, he was RSC of South East England and South London. The West Midland’s Board met thirteen times between January 2018 and May 2019. There has not been another RSC, or indeed any ‘guest’, present at any of the other twelve meetings, so his attendance at this particular meeting where approval was granted is noteworthy.
After many years in tenure, Quinn abruptly parted company with Plessington and the Holy Family Catholic Multi Academy Trust on Maundy Thursday, 18th April 2019. The Chair of Governors and Operations Director, Sally Mitchell, also resigned. Since then, it has been widely reported in the local Liverpool and Wirral press that two investigations are now underway. The Liverpool Echo and the internet based Schools Week have both reported on these issues in recent weeks.
After Maundy Thursday, Frank Field MP had a choice with regards to his Interim CEO.
Within a week, Frank issued a press statement, telling Schools Week that he was “overjoyed” that Quinn would now be permanent CEO of his Trust, describing him as “one of the best headmasters in the country.” When questioned about the Holy Family’s ongoing investigation, Field added: “As things unfold, we must try and understand why people have tried to bring down one of our great headmasters. The most important thing for me is to bind myself with Tom. I have never ever doubted his qualities, his brilliance in teaching, his honesty. “At stages in the future, people will have to account for their actions. I’m willing to answer for mine.”
Quinn and Mitchell were made permanent CEO and Finance Director.
The Ellesmere Port C of E College, formerly known as the UCEA Academy, needs to increase its numbers in order to quite rightly fill the school. Three neighbouring secondary schools are currently being selected by parents in preference. South Wirral High, The Whitby High School and Ellesmere Port Catholic High School. All three are local authority schools. Whereas South Wirral High comes under Wirral LA and the competing academies in its areas are run by Lancashire and West Yorkshire RSC Vicky Beer, the two other schools come under Cheshire West and Chester LA and their competing academies are overseen by West Midlands RSC, Andrew Warren. All three schools come under the same North West region for Ofsted, led by the Regional Director, Andrew Cook.
All three local authority schools were due an inspection and were recently inspected within six weeks of each other. What was completely unexpected was the experience of the inspections themselves and the judgements. Ofsted and the government proudly state that 75% of secondary schools are ‘good or better.’ Only 25% are judged as ‘Requires Improvement (3)’ and only 8% are judged as ‘Inadequate (4).’
The government also publishes league tables based on 2018 student progress scores. In 2018 nationally, a progress score below -0.4 placed a school in the bottom 20% and below -0.62 placed a school in the bottom 10% for student progress. Whitby and South Wirral for two consecutive years had a progress score in the top 50% and both got ‘0’ in 2018, the national average, even better for white, working class schools losing the brightest students who often make more progress, to local grammar schools. Ellesmere Port Catholic High improved significantly between 2017 to 2018, from -0.62 to -0.35. The Whitby High and South Wirral High got ‘Requires Improvement (3)’.
An analysis has been undertaken of all 484 Ofsted inspections in England that have taken place in this academic year and been published by 25th May 2019. This analysis has been completed looking specifically at the nine Ofsted regions. Residential and boarding schools, special schools, UTCs and independent schools have been removed from the sample to make it a fairer analysis.
In the whole of England, out of 484 inspected schools, the highest performing schools in terms of student progress that were awarded a 3 (Requires Improvement) are listed in the following table.
In the table above, 40% involve North West Ofsted, despite there being nine regions. Not one of the four NW schools is a MAT, indeed ¾ of the NW schools are LA schools. Whitby and South Wirral are 6th and 8th out of 123 RI schools ranked by progress. How unusual for neighbouring schools, competing with a multi academy trust, to both be in the top 7% for student progress amongst RI schools? In a national sample, LA neighbours performing well, yet being awarded a 3 in a sample of 10 schools. Unlikely?
It becomes more significant comparing these two schools and their student progress figure to the 295 schools that have been nationally awarded ‘Good’ in this academic year. Ranking all the Ofsted rated ‘Good’ schools by progress, Whitby is 134/295 schools, South Wirral is 141/295 schools. For both schools, their progress figure of 0 places them in the top half of ‘Good’ schools inspected this year, yet NW Ofsted awarded them RI(3). Ellesmere Port Catholic High School got -0.35 for progress. 33 schools nationally have been inspected and given ‘Good’ with a lower figure, the lowest in the NW being -0.68 and the lowest nationally is -0.81. Both figures are in the bottom 10% of English schools for progress in 2018, yet ‘Good’ was awarded. Out of 123 RI schools, EPCHS is 57th ranked by progress.
Using the published similar schools figure compared to 55 similar schools in terms of intake, the issue becomes even starker. South Wirral is 17th, Whitby is 20th and EPCHS is 35th. Out of 485 inspected schools using these figures, South Wirral is 118th, Whitby is 143rd and EPCHS is midway at 263rd. This figure is critical because it contextualises student progress to some degree, taking account of the average ability of a student cohort.
Ellesmere Port C of E College is in the Frank Field Trust. Quinn did not resign from the Holy Family Catholic Multi Academy Trust until April. All three LA inspections were in February and March and are interesting when compared to a school in his former Trust, St Mary’s Catholic College which has not had an inspection since September 2014. Why?
It reopened in September 2016 in Quinn’s Trust but its performance dramatically dropped from a student progress score of 0 in 2017 to -0.46 in 2018, the bottom 20% in England and lower than EPCHS with a declining trend. Despite not being inspected for 5 years, this deterioration in performance has still not triggered an inspection of St Mary’s, part of a MAT. Why?
The Frank Field Trust believes Ofsted judgements are influential and will help to improve the parental perception of Ellesmere Port C of E College. Multiple banners now surround the perimeter of the new school.
The Ofsted quote date has been changed from October 2018 to December 2018 on all of the banners. The quotes are attributed to the new school and Trust, when in fact they are Ofsted quotes on the former UCEA Academy which was under different leadership and governance and is now closed. Ofsted has never visited the Ellesmere Port C of E College. It does not have a view. The new school opened under the Frank Field Trust on 1st December 2018. Is this a genuine oversight, clever marketing or deception?
The personnel on all three LA inspections is a concern because of a potential conflict of interest.
HMI Will Smith downgraded South Wirral in 2017 to RI(3). Stephen Ruddy who was on the 2017 inspection was the lead inspector in March 2019, so he inspected the same school twice. Why?
HMI Will Smith was the more experienced HMI on Whitby’s inspection in February and the lead inspector on Ellesmere Port Catholic High in March. He has therefore been involved in all three school inspections over 2 years. Why?
Someone called W Smith was a governor on the Holy Family Catholic Multi Academy Trust in 2017/18, before resigning in October 2018. Was it HMI Smith, proving a direct link to Quinn, or someone else?
HMI Erica Sharman was the lead inspector at The Whitby High School. Her former boss for over a decade was Tom Quinn at Plessington. She was on his senior team as an Assistant Head from at least 2007-2017 and was seconded to St Mary’s Catholic College until fairly recently to help lead the school. She also worked in the former UCEA Academy for about a day a week around 2014, the last time Plessington supported UCEA’s development in trying to improve. Her relationship with Quinn is an incontrovertible conflict of interest. Why was she allowed to inspect a competing school?
HMI Will Smith also inspected the former UCEA academy twice in 2018 on 27th March and 16th October. In the second report, the positive quotes written by HMI Smith about the former ‘Inadequate’ UCEA Academy, which has since closed, are the quotes that now adorn the perimeter of the new school on multiple banners.
Even if the governor is not HMI Smith, HMI Sharman and HMI Smith have inspected many schools together, which in itself provide a potential link straight back to HMI Sharman’s former CEO. Why did Ofsted not take steps to simply avoid a perceived, or indeed real, conflict of interest?
Whereas 75% of academies are in deficit, 65% of local authority schools are not. This makes them attractive to multi academy trusts who desire to expand to at least twelve schools to derive the full benefits from economies of scale. Ofsted is the sole mechanism for downgrading schools to facilitate forced academisation , either through an Inadequate judgement or ‘encouraging’ schools, governors and local authorities to consider academisation following one or more ‘Requires Improvement’ judgement.
The problem however is bigger than a small local area.
There is an emerging pattern in the North West with Ofsted judgements on local authority schools compared to academies and MATS. Is this to ‘encourage’ or force LA schools into MATs in the longer term?
Why are so many MATs and academies in the North West judged ‘Good’ whilst LA schools are getting ‘Requires Improvement’ on better figures. Ofsted do not just judge on progress alone. How can it be a coincidence then that MATs are better at everything else than LA schools in the North West but LA schools listed are getting better student progress?
The wider national problem is that there is absolutely no consistency between a progress score, which the government judge all schools on and Ofsted judgements, based on 484 published reports. The government publish league tables ranking schools by progress. Why, if it is no longer important?
These 22 schools either have a poor progress or poor similar school score. They all got a 1 day inspection and remained ‘Good (2) for up to 18 months. Why did these remain ‘Good’ with a one day inspection when 13 of them were in the bottom 20% for student progress in 2018?
Finally, is there any evidence of collaboration between RSCs, Ofsted and multi academy trusts.
Sandymoor School, Runcorn was rated Inadequate (4) by Ofsted on 28th February 2018. A series of events then followed. Ofsted continued to ‘investigate,’ making the following judgement that the school between February 2018 and its later visit had not done enough to allay their concerns. The Principal and Chair of Governors resigned within months.
This is a quick turnaround within a year. So how bad was Sandymoor School and its previous leadership? In 2017, its Progress 8 score was -1.11. Ofsted rightly had concerns but this figure can be explained. Sandymoor was a start up school. It did have challenges with half filled Year groups, excluded students from nearby schools etc. However, moving down the Year groups to Years 7, 8 and 9, the school was more typical of any school with full Year groups. It was full in the lower Years. There was confidence that the progress figure in 2018 and subsequent years would improve.
Ofsted clearly did not share this view. The Department of Education, citing Ofsted’s evidence, served a ‘termination notice.’ They could have waited until September, just to see if the GCSE results had improved. What were Sandymoor’s results in 2018? Their Progress score improved from -1.1 to
-0.72, almost exactly the same as The Academy of St Francis of Assisi on -0.68, who were deemed to be ‘Good’ (2). Just from the inspections in this academic year, the following schools all had worse performance than Sandymoor in 2018. Kirkby High (-0.8), Buile Hill Visual Arts (-0.83),
Waterhead (-0.88) and Notre Dame Catholic College (-0.98). They all got ‘RI’ (3). Sandymoor was 50/55 similar schools. This is better than 14 of 80 schools in the North West Ofsted have inspected this year who were either given ‘RI’ (3) or ‘Good’ (2). Seven schools in the North West were given ‘Good’ with worse similar schools figures.
Sandymoor School was a flagship free school that was visited by both the Education Secretary at the time, Michael Gove and the Prime Minister, David Cameron in 2015. It was in the headlines and concerns were even being raised about the school in the House of Commons in 2018.
Ofsted Inspectors arrived on 28th February 2018. Their judgement unleashed a series of events.
Who was part of this inspection team that gave the judgement of ‘Inadequate’ which was the catalyst for subsequent events and decisions?
A Regional Director and National Lead on Safeguarding at Ormiston Academies, Paula Arrowsmith
Exactly one year later to the day on 28th February 2019, the RSC Board, led by Vicky Beer, approved the sponsorship of Sandymoor School to none other than Ormiston Academy Trust.
So why is the Conflicts box empty?
None of the above has appeared in the press yet, despite the decision being taken in February.
This is a clear example of a local, competing, multi academy trust
securing sponsorship of a nearby school within a year.
Ormiston’s ‘support’ in recent months was not an act of altruism. They already have two schools close by. Surely this is a conflict of interest?
It gets worse.
With the approval now given, a new appointment from Ormiston has now joined the Lancashire and West Yorkshire RSC Board, within weeks of this decision in February, technically avoiding a conflict of interest surrounding the approval. Tuesday Humby, the Northern Regional Director of Ormiston and Executive Principal of Ormiston Chadwick , a neighbouring school to Sandymoor.
Updated ‘Transparency data’ on 29th April 2019 shows Tuesday Humby from Ormiston is now on the RSC board.
Tuesday has not attended previous meetings which is why the assumption is that she is a new appointment to the board. She does not appear anywhere on the minutes of the previous thirteen meetings of this board.
The emerging patterns in Cheshire, the Wirral , Runcorn and the North West are a serious concern.
This RSC Board led by Vicky Beer is also responsible for Wirral. If it can happen in Runcorn, it can happen anywhere. Andrew Warren is RSC for the West Midlands, including Cheshire. Let’s make a prediction. Within the next three years, South Wirral High School, Whitby High School and Ellesmere Port Catholic High will all be part of a multi academy trust. It was probably decided months ago at the highest levels and just required a sequence of events which are now underway. As Frank Field MP himself stated in a recent press statement, it will all become clear in time, “as things unfold.”
After all, Fulwood Academy got a (4) when Ofsted arrived. The Head had been in post one day… St Gabriel’s in Bury, with an Acting Head and a respectable Progress core of -0.22 got a (4) too. The Diocese of Salford has just set up three MATs called CATs so St Gabriels’ will become part of St Theresa of Calcutta CAT. Broadgreen International in Liverpool with a progress score of -0.44, better than St Mary’s Catholic College which still remains uninspected after 5 years, has also been given a (4). All of these will have to become absorbed within academy chains which has now become the only improvement mechanism in the education system.
Leaders of local authority schools and stand alone academies will be recoiling at the prospect of ‘the phone call’, helpfully extended to 90 minutes from September. From the emerging evidence here, you don’t need a 2 day inspection, never mind a phone call to establish ‘lines of enquiry.’ Forget the Progress 8 score or reformed curriculum. The lead inspector should simply just ask which MAT the school has a preference for.
RSCs and MATs are direct beneficiaries of local authority schools being downgraded. Ofsted is the sole mechanism that can do this. If one independent government body works with another…… The ‘modus operandi,’ has been shown to work with Sandymoor School. It’s a free school but the principle is the same.
As for EPCHS much delayed Ofsted report since this story broke, it will either be buried, changed, released or they will be re-inspected. After South Wirral, Whitby and Sandymoor, amongst many others, their report will lack any credibility. After all, look what happened to a girl’s school last year.
When EPCHS’ report is finally released, how will it align with the 2015 report where the same Head teacher was praised for rapidly bringing the school out of special measures?
“Outstanding leadership provided by the inspirational, dedicated head teacher has been the impetus to rapid improvement.”
We will see.
Questions raised by the evidence so far
- Is there an issue with Ofsted, specifically in the North West, downgrading local authority schools whilst seemingly being more accommodating to MATs and academies?
- Why were perceived and real conflicts of interest, involving the inspections of The Whitby High School, Ellesmere Port Catholic High School and South Wirral High allowed to go unchecked?
- Was there an agenda to boost Ellesmere Port C of E College by changing parental perception through the negative Ofsted judgements placed upon potentially three competing, neighbouring schools (EPCHS yet to be released two months later)? Is the longer term plan to ‘encourage’ or ‘enforce’ these three schools at the direction of their local authorities or diocese to join MATs?
- Why has St Mary’s Catholic College gone for five academic years without an inspection?
- Why did St Francis of Assisi in Liverpool (part of a MAT), get ‘Good’ on a 2018 student progress score of
- -0.68 (bottom 10% in England) and go six years without an inspection? If the answer to this question is to give new leadership time to turn the school around, why wasn’t the same privilege afforded to the one day Head of Fulwood and Acting Head of St Gabriel’s in Bury, neither of which are part of MATs? How did Deyes, (part of a MAT), get ‘Good’ with a progress score of -0.55 and a similar school position of 55/55 schools?
- Whilst progress should not dictate an overall inspection judgement, why are MATs much better at all the other aspects that lead to a ‘Good’ judgement, compared to local authority schools? If the answer is that the 2018 progress score is historic and Ofsted judged the current ‘live’ evidence, why is it the case that MATs tend to have much improved ‘live evidence’ but NW local authority schools have markedly deteriorated within less than one academic year?
- Why were so many academies and MATs in the North West given one day inspections which allowed them to remain ‘Good’ with progress figures much lower than many LA schools which got a two day inspection and were downgraded as a consequence? In the Wirral and Cheshire West, why is it only 4 LA schools that have had 2 day inspections (St Nicks, Whitby, EPCHS South Wirral) when there are MATs and academies with deteriorating and much worse progress that got 1 day or weren’t even inspected?
- Why is there no consistency with Ofsted between the different regions, with regard to the progress scores of inspected schools and judgement grades?
- If Ofsted are clear that student progress scores are no longer that important, why have schools had to radically reform their curriculum, often at the detriment of the arts, to accommodate this? Why are league tables published using the progress score, labelling schools, “Well above average” or “Well below average” by the Department of Education if the progress score is no longer of significance? Why do schools get provided with an IDSR annual judgement every December if it is no longer of significant value?
- Why does Ofsted police itself? Why are complaints about inspections not handled by a completely independent body?
- If the NSC and his RSCs benefit from schools being downgraded to expand their academy network nationwide at a time when 65% of local authority schools are not in deficit, does this make the relationship between RSCs and Ofsted increasingly problematic? Isn’t this the case, especially if it is perceived that Ofsted could be helping RSCs and the government by downgrading schools to ‘Requires Improvement (3)’ to ‘encourage’ governors and local authorities to get their schools into a MAT before they lose control of their future destiny if a subsequent inspection does not go well.
- Why is the mechanism for improving downgraded schools reliant on multi academy chains and CEOs that directly benefit financially, as with Sandymoor School, from securing the balance sheet, assets and any profits from the schools they absorb?
- What has happened to Ellesmere Port Catholic High School’s Ofsted report?
- Why was Ormiston Academy Trust approved by the RSC Vicky Beer to take over Sandymoor School exactly one year to the day after an Ormiston representative was part of an Ofsted inspection team that downgraded the school to ‘Inadequate,’ establishing a chain of events that facilitated Ormiston’s takeover? Why does Ormiston’s Tuesday Humby only appear on the RSC board now, after that approval?