Norfolk academies ‘had no unfair advance Ofsted warning’

There is no evidence that three Norfolk academies had unfair advance warning of the dates of Ofsted inspections, an independent review has concluded.

The review upholds the findings of the original investigation into alleged inspection irregularities in 2013.

Ofsted appointed independent lawyer Julian Gizzi to review the case when emails emerged suggesting some teachers knew the dates of the visit in advance.

The original investigation was “overall appropriate”, concludes Mr Gizzi.

Mr Gizzi, a senior lawyer, was asked to examine all the evidence available to the original investigation along with the additional material that came to light later.

‘Requisite notice’

The original report by Ofsted’s director of quality and training, Sir Robin Bosher, was published in September.

It had found no evidence the three schools – Thetford Academy, Great Yarmouth Primary Academy and Norwich’s Ormiston Victory Academy – had been improperly warned about when to expect inspections.

The allegations were made in the Observer newspaper in August and October last year.

Mr Gizzi concluded: “On the balance of probabilities, no-one associated with any of the three schools in question… received more than the requisite half a day’s notice of the date of their inspection, contrary to claims published in the Observer newspaper.”

He said Sir Robin Bosher had carried out his original investigation “with an open mind, that he acted with fairness and integrity and that his overall approach was methodical and diligent”, adding that the conclusions he reached were “reasonable”.

The report says the schools were in a high state of readiness for Ofsted and that although the tone of some of the emails between senior staff might appear “troubling” there was no evidence of any tip-offs of inspection dates.

Mr Gizzi examined the email records from the schools where available, and the emails obtained in the newspaper investigation.

He also carried out interviews with staff at the schools and at the Inspiration Trust academy chain which ran them, about the precise meaning of each email.

‘Damaging’

Chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw said the original claims had been “very serious and damaging”.

“I am, therefore, pleased that the overall findings in our original enquiry are supported by the conclusions reached by the independent and impartial review.

“I am also pleased that Mr Gizzi has recognised that Sir Robin’s original investigation was professional, substantial and rigorous.”

Sir Michael added that the review lays bare the extent to which the schools were ready for Ofsted “weeks and even months before the inspection actually took place”.

He warned that schools should maintain a sense of proportion and focus on “getting things right for their pupils, not for inspectors”.

“Leaders should be focusing on making sure there is good teaching, robust assessment and a positive and respectful learning culture at their school.

“If they are attending well to these things then an Ofsted inspection will usually take care of itself.”

In a statement on its website, the Inspiration Trust said it was delighted at the outcome.

“I do hope we can all put this issue behind us so we can all redouble our focus on the important matters at hand: driving up educational achievement in our schools and giving the children of Norfolk the best start in life,” said chief executive Dame Rachel de Souza.

The trust says it has written to The Observer asking for the allegations to be withdrawn, adding that “the matter is the subject of a legal dispute”.

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