Norfolk’s largest school chain ‘getting its act together’ - but still not good enough, say inspectors

Mary Jane Edwards, chief executive of the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust (DNEAT).

Mary Jane Edwards, chief executive of the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust (DNEAT). Picture: DNEAT - Credit: Archant

Norfolk's largest group of schools is 'getting its act together' - but does still not have high enough standards, inspectors have said.

Open Academy in Norwich, formerly Heartsease High School. Picture: DAVID FREEZER

Open Academy in Norwich, formerly Heartsease High School. Picture: DAVID FREEZER - Credit: Archant

Education regulator Ofsted carried out a 'focused review' of the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust, which meant visiting six schools in the organisation's portfolio of 29 primaries and one secondary.

Ofsted East of England director Paul Brooker said the appointment of chief executive Mary Jane Edwards in September last year was a 'watershed moment', which heralded crucial changes that are already having a positive effect on pupils' performance.

But he said children's achievement is still not good enough, with a letter published today (Monday, May 14) highlighting how: 'Disadvantaged pupils made significantly less progress than disadvantaged pupils nationally, in 2016 and 2017, in all key stages.

'The most able pupils, including the most able disadvantaged pupils, did not achieve as well as they should.'

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Mrs Edwards said the trust was proud of the praise in the report and its reflection of teachers' efforts - but said: 'Although this is a great result, we know that there is still more to do and we will continue to work at improving standards.'

The trust, which is responsible for Open Academy in Norwich, was established in 2013 and grew rapidly, acquiring 12 schools in 2014-15 and a further 15 the following year.

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Its early years proved challenging, with Mr Brooker saying many multi-academy trusts face difficulties challenges in devising systems for things like monitoring achievement and accountability across a range of schools.

'During the early stages of the trust's evolution, the rate of improvement was too variable,' said the letter by inspector Christina Dick.

'Leadership capacity was too limited to cope with the rapid expansion as new schools joined.'

Mrs Dick said pupil outcomes remain variable and said attendance is still below the national average, although both are improving.

But she told Mrs Edwards that the chief executive had 'made a significant difference in a relatively short space of time'.

Mrs Dick added: 'Your appointment underpins a tenacious determination to improve outcomes for all pupil groups.

'You have built on previous successes and sustained a relentless focus on improving the quality of education.'

In particular, the trust has organised its schools into regions to provide individual schools with better support.

'This approach is proving increasingly effective in honing teachers' skills in the classroom,' Mrs Dick said.

'Trust leaders are crystal clear in the knowledge that outcomes for all pupil groups need to improve at a faster rate than previously.

'Recent inspections of trust schools and trust-wide assessment information reflect a positive pattern of ongoing change.

'Pupils are making better progress because the quality of teaching, learning and assessment is improving. High-level ambition and raised expectations are at the heart of this cultural shift.'

Mr Brooker added: 'The main gist of this letter is that this is a trust that is getting its act together and doing a lot better than it was.

'The fact it's getting better is clearly a good thing – but it should be better.'

Mrs Edwards added: 'We all want to provide the best education possible for the children in our care and we believe that by working collaboratively we can achieve this.'

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