Ofsted to appoint “independent figure” to review probe into Norfolk academies inspection tip-off claims

The official opening of Great Yarmouth Primary Academy - one of the Inspiration Trust schools at the

The official opening of Great Yarmouth Primary Academy - one of the Inspiration Trust schools at the centre of the allegations. (L TO R) Rachel De Souza, Bill Holledge - Headteacher, Dr Liz Sidwell - Schools Commissioner and Theodoe Agnew - Academy Sponsor. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2012

Ofsted has announced an independent review of its investigation into claims that three Norfolk schools connected to Dame Rachel de Souza received advance notice of up-coming inspections.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, speaking at the Norfolk headteacher conference. Photo: Bill Smi

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, speaking at the Norfolk headteacher conference. Photo: Bill Smith

The earlier internal probe, carried out by Sir Robin Bosher, Ofsted's director of quality and training, was published on September 23, and found 'no evidence to substantiate the allegations that the three schools in question had improperly received prior notification of the dates of their Ofsted inspections in order to put them at an unfair advantage'.

Speaking at a conference of Norfolk headteachers earlier this month, Ofsted's chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw said, if there were further complaints, he would look at it again with a view to possibly bringing in an independent person to conduct an investigation.

Last Sunday, a national newspaper published renewed claims, based on a series of emails from Dame Rachel, which it said offered 'compelling evidence of advance knowledge'.

Dame Rachel this week said in a letter that the allegations were 'absolutely false.'

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In a statement this afternoon, Sir Michael said: 'The ongoing claims that have been made about certain schools in Norfolk being given advance notice of Ofsted inspections are very serious.

'It is vital that the public has absolute confidence in the integrity of the inspection process. That is why I immediately asked Sir Robin Bosher to examine these allegations when they first surfaced in August.

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'Sir Robin conducted a thorough investigation, which included 39 interviews with relevant parties and visits to the three academies in question. But I made a public commitment that should any additional evidence come to light, I would have no hesitation in bringing in someone from outside Ofsted to examine this.

'For the avoidance of any doubt, I will be asking this independent reviewer to examine all the evidence originally considered by Sir Robin and to establish whether his findings and recommendations still stand in the light of the new email evidence that has now emerged.'

The statement marks a change of position from Ofsted, which on Monday said: 'Having studied all the points contained in yesterday's Observer article, we do not believe they add anything of substance to the issues that were considered in detail by Sir Robin Bosher.'

Responding to Sir Michael's announcement, Theodore Agnew, chairman of the Inspiration Trust, said: 'We welcome this new review as an opportunity to lay to rest once and for all these serious allegations, which we believe to be false.

'We are confident that this new and independent review will confirm the conclusions of the previous in-depth Ofsted investigation, which found no evidence that anybody had been tipped off about the dates of Ofsted inspections.

'In the situations under consideration, there was a narrow window in which Ofsted could arrive and the staff were simply in a high state of eagerness and anticipation. They had no inside knowledge.'

Dame Rachel de Souza, chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, said: 'The independence of Ofsted is paramount in our educational system and I look forward to the independent reviewer getting to the bottom of these false allegations.

'I am deeply committed, as is the entire Inspiration Trust team, to educational progress in Norfolk and we are determined not to let these false and upsetting allegations distract us from our work in giving children the best education possible.

'In my role as principal we opened Ormiston Victory Academy in 2010 and in three years it was judged outstanding on all measures by HMI for Ofsted and achieved a 35% per cent improvement in 5A*- Cs including Mathematics and English. In 2013 it achieved 73% GCSEs including maths and English.'

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