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 - Credit: Archant 2013

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

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

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

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?

You may also want to watch:

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.'

Most Read

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.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter