Eight questions as Ofsted starts review of three inspections of Norfolk academies

Dame Rachel de Souza with education minister Lord Nash. Picture: Denise Bradley Dame Rachel de Souza with education minister Lord Nash. Picture: Denise Bradley

Friday, August 29, 2014
9:58 AM

For four years, she has been the thrusting outsider administering a shock to the Norfolk education system.

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Chief Inspector of Schools in England and Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA WireChief Inspector of Schools in England and Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Dame Rachel de Souza led Ormiston Victory Academy in Costessey, whose pre-academy incarnation twice plunged into special measures, to an “outstanding” Ofsted rating in 2013.

As chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, a Norfolk-based chain of academies, she has promised to turn around a string of troubled schools, and set up new free schools which will become beacons of excellence.

Now, the Ofsted inspections of three schools connected to Dame Rachel have become the focus of a probe into allegations they were told the dates days or weeks in advance.

Ofsted said the review is already under way, is expected to take six weeks, and its conclusions will be made public.

Was Ormiston Victory Academy tipped off?

Staff and pupils at the time of school’s 2012 and 2013 inspections, when Dame Rachel was principal, have claimed it had up to two weeks’ warning, allowing it to prepare perfect lessons and behaviour for the inspectors.

The Ormiston Academies Trust has said it has never received advance notice of inspections of its schools, and added: “If the former principal personally received any prior notification, this was not something that was communicated with the trust leadership. The former principal left Ormiston Victory Academy over a year ago and is no longer connected with the trust.”

Ofsted said it did not give advance notice. Dame Rachel has not commented on the allegation.

Were Thetford Academy and Great Yarmouth Primary Academy tipped off?

The Observer has claimed both schools, which are sponsored by the Inspiration Trust, were tipped off, and education journalist Warwick Mansell said a source close to the trust correctly told him the dates of the Thetford inspection, three days before it began.

Before the review was announced, the inspectorate said: “Ofsted did not give any of these schools advance warning of their inspections.”

In a statement last week, the Inspiration Trust said: “Ofsted has been clear that none of the Inspiration Trust schools were given advance notice of inspections. It is false to suggest otherwise.”

If there were tip-offs, who tipped off whom?

Few believe any tip-off would have taken the form of a formal, written notification from Ofsted, but would instead have been an informal nudge or wink from an individual who had access to inspection dates.

If the Ofsted review concludes that the schools were tipped off, will it be able to establish who told what to who?

How independent is the Ofsted review?

Ofsted has picked one of its regional directors, Sir Robin Bosher, to review the three Norfolk Ofsted inspections, prompting Thetford county councillor Denis Crawford to call for the review to be independent.

An Ofsted spokesman said it was “entirely appropriate” Ofsted investigates complaints about its inspections, in line with its published policy on complaints, and added: “Sir Robin has had no involvement with any of the inspections concerned in the review.”

Some academy opponents have long alleged Ofsted has a pro-academy agenda, something it hotly denies.

Before becoming chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw was executive principal of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, and a director of Ark, an academy chain. Before coming to Ofsted in April, Sir Robin himself was director of primary education for the Harris federation of academy schools.

Will an Ofsted review of allegations about itself, and three academies it praised, inspire public confidence?

Will whistle blowers come forward?

Sir Robin is investigating whether someone inside Ofsted leaked information, so will any whistle blowers considering giving evidence be confident their identities will not be leaked?

An Ofsted spokesman said: “Ofsted will keep the identity of any individual supplying evidence confidential for the purposes of the review. However, we cannot offer absolute guarantees that identities wouldn’t be speculated upon or revealed, particularly in the event of associated legal proceedings.”

Another worry is that some people with evidence may have signed gagging clauses restricting what they can say, and worry that contacting Ofsted could land them in legal trouble. Ofsted said its review did not release people from such legal obligations.

In Norfolk an isolated case?

There have long been rumours across the teaching profession across the country about some schools getting advance notice of inspection dates.

Have the well-publicised allegations about Norfolk prompted people to come forward with allegations about other areas and other organisations?

Ofsted refused to say.

Does the Inspiration Trust receive special treatment?

Dame Rachel was a favourite of former education secretary Michael Gove, who visited Ormiston Victory Academy to start its rebuilding programme in 2012, and she and Inspiration Trust staff were visitors to Downing Street receptions.

The Inspiration Trust’s sponsor, Theodore Agnew, is chairman of the DfE’s Academies Board, and Inspiration’s trustees include former Tory MP, and current chairman of the Care Quality Commission, David Prior.

And Norfolk MP and former education minister Elizabeth Truss regularly praised Inspiration Trust schools in the media, congratulating Great Yarmouth Primary Academy on its “good” Ofsted report, but not other Norfolk schools with similar or better judgements.

Dame Rachel has acted as a seconded Ofsted inspector, and joined Sean Harford, Ofsted’s regional director for the east of England, as well as Ms Truss and others, on a fact-finding trip to China in February.

Some have questioned whether these contacts have given the Inspiration Trust an unfair advantage over others.

What does Dame Rachel have to say?

Since the allegations were first made public, we have heard from Ofsted, Ormiston Academies Trust and the Inspiration Trust, but we have not heard a word Dame Rachel herself.

The Inspiration Trust said Dame Rachel was on holiday when the allegations surfaced last week, and would not now comment until the Ofsted review was complete.

10 comments

  • Now I got another post about having a post blocked, blocked. What is going on EDP? Reason = other. ...mysterious indeed

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    TheTruth

    Wednesday, September 3, 2014

  • still only two comments? crikey! has anybody checked the pulse of the site moderator recently? this story's about 'quis custodiet ipsos custodes' - 'who will guard the guardians?: so who is moderating the moderators?

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    martin wallis

    Tuesday, September 2, 2014

  • I think perhaps people are having to be very careful with what they say on this story. Lots of people 'know' things, many are not prepared to go on record to back them up (possibly because Ofsted are running their own internal review and how secure would informants be?) and actual evidence is going to take a bit of time to come out. I would have thought the lawyers are watching this story very closely just to insure no-one makes an allegation that cannot be backed up.

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    OldSchool

    Sunday, August 31, 2014

  • ""If anyone asked me what my ideal education policy would be, it would be to clone Rachel (de Souza) 23,000 times." said Michael Gove.". Mr Gove's political career - once so promising - is on the wane: shuffled sideways out of his ministerial portfolio at Ed to head up (no pun intended) the Whip's Office, he has now been caught asleep at the helm as Douglas Carswell defects to UKIP. Where next for the hapless Mr Gove? In a spirit of helpfulness as always, I have a cunning plan. Mr Gove has been widely reported as being 'the politest man in Westminster'. There's the clue. A born diplomat, then. So relieve him of the onerous burden of the Chief Whip's 'mr nasty' role, and second him to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (known to insiders as the ForCOff) as Blighty's roving Goodwill Ambassador. First posting? How about the newest 'state' on the planet? IS - the self-styled Islamic State. Imagine the scene: 'Hello Mr Al-Baghdadi, my name's Gove. Michael Gove'. Now, losing one head (Rachel De Souza) might be viewed as bad luck: to lose a second (his own) careless. Bon voyage.

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    martin wallis

    Saturday, August 30, 2014

  • Yes, Sportswagon, as you say, very strange. I too posted a comment on this article yesterday and it still isn't showing. The delay in publishing comments seems to have happened with all the recent articles related to this story.

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    Row71

    Saturday, August 30, 2014

  • VERY strange...commented yesterday but nothing posted. Does the EDP wait until the story has died down a bit before posting comments. Shame, cos EDP are spot on with this story.

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    Sportswagon

    Saturday, August 30, 2014

  • WELL DONE EDP for brilliantly and accurately identifying the issues in this disgusting mess. Please keep up the pressure especially if they try to whitewash it all!! This investigation must expose the truth.

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    Sportswagon

    Friday, August 29, 2014

  • Correction, the allegations didn't surface last week, they surfaced in the press early in July, which means there was plenty of time for RDS to comment, prior to the instigation of the investigation, unless she been on holiday for the entire time, which is doubtful.

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    Row71

    Friday, August 29, 2014

  • Given these questions the likelihood of really getting to the bottom of events is unlikely. However, as long as the LEA knows the truth, the parents know the truth, and the teachers no the truth hopefully it will start a process of more thoughtfulness before selling out children to the highest bidder, or the best connected academy chain?

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    TheTruth

    Friday, August 29, 2014

  • There should be another question. Why is de Souza still there ?

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    "V"

    Friday, August 29, 2014

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