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Norfolk academy chiefs deny allegations schools were tipped off ahead of Ofsted inspections

PUBLISHED: 11:01 18 August 2014 | UPDATED: 13:56 18 August 2014

Great Yarmouth Primary Academy official opening ceremony. (L TO R) Rachel De Souza with  Dr Liz Sidwell  - Schools Commissioner.  Picture: James Bass

Great Yarmouth Primary Academy official opening ceremony. (L TO R) Rachel De Souza with Dr Liz Sidwell - Schools Commissioner. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012

A leading Norfolk academy chain has today denied allegations that some of its schools were unfairly tipped off about Ofsted inspections before they were held.

Norwich South MP Simon Wright has called for whistleblowers to come forward if they have any evidence to support claims made about the Inspiration Trust and its chief executive Dame Rachel de Souza, and Ormiston Victory Academy in Costessey, which she previously led.

A senior official in a teachers’ union said he was not surprised by the allegations, claiming a number of members had made complaints.

Ofsted guidance states schools should only be told about inspections the afternoon before they begin, but a teacher who worked at Victory when it was inspected in May 2013, when Dame Rachel was executive principal, claimed senior staff knew the inspection dates the previous week.

It was claimed that teachers who did not normally teach at the school did so during the inspection.

Similar claims about advance notice were made yesterday in a national newspaper about Great Yarmouth Primary Academy and Thetford Academy, which are Inspiration Trust schools.

Ofsted said none of the schools were given advance notice, a denial Inspiration repeated for its schools.

Ormiston Academies Trust said that if Dame Rachel had received any prior notification “this was not something that was communicated with the trust leadership” and would have been “out of step with everything we stand for”.

Dame Rachel, who also carries out Ofsted inspections from time to time, was not available for comment.

The teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I was in on the Saturday before the inspection catching up with some marking and making sure my displays were looking good.

“We had all been pushed to get all of our planning and marking up to date in the previous weeks and I was told directly by a senior teacher in the week before the inspection that the inspectors would be in on the following Tuesday and Wednesday - so my classroom wall displays had to be up to date with examples of students’ work.”

The teacher added: “Some teachers had been made to attend lesson planning meetings with more senior staff in the weeks before to make sure our lesson materials were of an Ofsted-beating standard. There were lots of senior staff doing spot checks in lessons and checking our marking and record-keeping was exemplary.”

The teacher emphasised that “the staff and students at Victory are hardworking and doing great at the school”.

The two-day inspection, which began on Tuesday, May 14, judged the school outstanding across the board.

Colin Collis, of teaching union the NASUWT, said: “This story comes as no surprise to me because of comments that have been made to me by a number of members at different locations within the Inspiration Trust, but also Costessey when it was under the auspices of Rachel de Souza.”

Norwich South MP and former teacher Simon Wright said he was surprised by the allegations.

He said: “I would strongly encourage anyone involved in these schools, or who are aware of the basis on which these rumours have been circulated, to come forward and make sure it receives full and serious attention.

“It’s important that Ofsted looks at specific complaints or allegations that are made, because ultimately it will only undermine their integrity if such rumours are shown to have any truth whatsoever.”

In a statement, the trustees of 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.”

It added: “All of our schools are managed on the basis that an Ofsted inspection could occur at any time. This discipline provides reassurance to pupils, parents and teachers because it means schools are run in the way Ofsted inspectors see them on their visits.

“In England, a school’s progress is validated externally by Ofsted inspections and exam results. We support this.”

An Ofsted spokesman said: “Information about Ofsted’s inspection schedule is tightly controlled. It would not be possible for Associate Inspectors, who undertake occasional inspection work for Ofsted, to access scheduling details. Ofsted did not give any of these schools advance warning of their inspections.

“Ofsted has not received any complaints about these inspections. Should someone come forward with relevant information we would look into this, in line with our complaints procedure.”

Do you have an education story? Email education correspondent martin.george@archant.co.uk

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