Nicky Morgan told to clarify Ofsted’s powers to inspect academy chains

Classroom

The education secretary, Nicky Morgan, has been ordered by MPs to write to the chief inspector of schools after she publicly contradicted him over the watchdog’s powers to inspect academy chains.

Morgan came under fire over the government’s academies and free schools programme when she appeared before the House of Commons education select committee. She refused to back down from a direct clash with Sir Michael Wilshaw’s position, leaving baffled committee members to choose who to believe.

Wilshaw has told a committee of MPs that Ofsted should be given additional powers to inspect and grade the management of the chains, as it does with local authorities. At present, Ofsted can inspect only the schools run by the chains, not their administration.

Morgan was adamant, however, that Ofsted already had sufficient powers, adding: “I am not in the business of passing legislation for powers that already exist.”

The row flared last week when Morgan appeared before the same committee. Since that time she said she had looked at a series of inspections Ofsted had carried out of schools within academy chains, including AET and E-ACT, and concluded: “Ofsted have these powers already in effect.”

The committee chairman, Graham Start, countered: “Michael Wilsaw says he does not have the power to inspect. You are saying you disagree with that?”

“I am,” said Morgan.

“That’s bizarre,” said Stuart. “I’m struggling with this.” Unable to make further headway he asked Morgan to write to Wilshaw to clarify Ofsted’s powers to inspect chains.

Morgan also faced tough questioning from MPs concerned about the huge sums of public money being spent on free schools, which were opening in areas where there was little demand. One free school that opened in Merton, south-west London, had only 12 pupils; another secondary school in Durham had just 38 pupils, which meant £80,000 of public money was being spent on each child.

The education secretary countered by saying 71% of free schools had been graded good or outstanding, and numbers were low because they had been open for only two or three years.

Morgan was also asked about her vision for the future of the English education system and whether she planned to turn every state-funded school into an academy, as suggested in a recent report by Policy Exchange, a rightwing thinktank.

More than half of secondary schools are academies but among primary schools, the figure is just 11%.

Morgan said she would like to see more schools become academies, but refrained from backing full academisation. She said she did not want to see schools run for profit, adding: “I recognise there are many schools that are still state-maintained and they are also doing a fantastic job. At the end of the day what I want is the best schools for our young people, and for every school to be good or outstanding.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Sally Weale, education correspondent, for The Guardian on Wednesday 22nd October 2014 16.40 Europe/London

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