One of many nation’s top-performing chains of academy faculties has been accused of “systemic dishonest” throughout Ofsted inspections at quite a few its primaries, a HuffPost UK investigation can reveal.
Involved academics and a governor have made critical allegations that the famend Harris Federation, which runs 47 faculties in and round London, is “gaming the system” throughout Ofsted inspections at multiple of its faculties.
The academy belief, one of many largest in England, was arrange by Conservative peer and ex-Carpetright mogul Lord Philip Harris, and has typically been praised by authorities ministers as a shining instance of the academy faculties mannequin.
However insiders at some Harris main faculties have advised HuffPost UK the unrelenting drive for fulfillment from the academy belief has led to an endemic tradition of “dishonest and rule bending” throughout Ofsted.
These involved say the Harris Federation wants good or excellent Ofsted scores in any respect its faculties so as to justify the bumper salaries of prime employees. Its CEO Dan Moynihan was paid at the very least £420,000 in 2015-16.
One former Harris instructor, talking on the situation of anonymity, informed HuffPost UK: “Employees are parachuted in to guard the Ofsted grade.
“That is all concerning the veneer of excellence with out substance to carry up the PR about all Harris faculties being good or excellent at Ofsted.”
Quite a lot of sources near Harris faculties have made particular allegations about extremely skilled government academics from a central workforce being introduced into faculties on the eve of Ofsted inspections, allegedly with a view to increase efficiency.
Critics say such a help is just not obtainable to native authority faculties and the difficulty is a essential one, as a superb or excellent Ofsted score is a key issue when mother and father choose faculties for his or her youngsters.
So influential are the watchdog’s scores that home costs round excellent faculties typically improve, whereas a nasty Ofsted score can have profound penalties for the way forward for a faculty.
At two Harris main faculties the central staff’s employees, a gaggle of academics who’re employed by the belief moderately than working for any particular faculty, reportedly taught classes instead of much less skilled class academics on the day Ofsted inspectors visited faculties. It’s claimed this was “hidden” from inspectors.
In one other critical case, a supply says safeguarding data on an IT system have been up to date the night time earlier than an Ofsted inspection, which the Harris Federation denies.
The raft of allegations come weeks after SATs outcomes at two Harris main faculties have been annulled following investigations by the Requirements and Testing Company as a consequence of “over-aiding” of pupils throughout checks.
The Harris Federation has forcefully denied all allegations, pointing the finger at “anti-academy campaigners and a small variety of disgruntled former employees” for fuelling allegations towards it.
A spokeswoman for the federation advised HuffPost UK: “These claims are merely unfaithful, made solely to denigrate the success of our faculties.”
The federation stated its monitor document in gaining 22% good and 78% excellent Ofsted scores at previously failing faculties had not come with out “ruffling feathers”.
What are the allegations?
Central to the allegations are reviews that the Harris Federation’s consultancy group of 60 employees are introduced into its main faculties on the eve of Ofsted inspections to be able to paint a rosier image than the standard day inspectors ought to see.
HuffPost UK has been advised this has occurred at 4 Harris main faculties – Harris Peckham Park and Harris Shortlands in south London, and Harris Philip Lane and Harris Coleraine Park in north London.
Central group employees are additionally alleged to have taught classes instead of weaker class academics at Harris Peckham Park and Harris Philip Lane.
One former Harris instructor, who has now left the academy chain, stated: “I’ve recognized that’s been endemic apply ever since I began.
“I knew from day one which was one of many issues the central group did. They might simply be parachuted into faculties that have been struggling and they might run courses throughout Ofsted as in the event that they have been the category academics.
“Then usually talking they might disappear and transfer onto the subsequent Ofsted-pending faculty.”
One other former instructor at Harris Philip Lane informed HuffPost UK the central federation employees “arrived like a military” on website inside two hours of a name alerting the varsity to Ofsted’s go to in Might final yr.
Central group academics are additionally alleged to have retrospectively marked youngsters’s train books at Harris Shortlands, in Bromley, and Harris Philip Lane, in Tottenham, to deliver them as much as commonplace earlier than Ofsted inspectors checked out them.
“This was both as a result of the marking hadn’t been achieved or hadn’t been achieved properly sufficient,” a former Harris instructor stated. “Clearly the aim was to cover this could an Ofsted inspector see what was happening.
“They need to not have been marking these youngsters’s books as a result of that they had not taught that work to these youngsters and there’s no different function for retrospectively marking books aside from to realize some sort of benefit with Ofsted.”
Mother and father and governors at Harris Peckham Park reportedly complained once they came upon concerning the federation’s use of central staff employees through the Ofsted inspection in March final yr.
The Haringey department of the Nationwide Schooling Union (NEU) additionally wrote to Ofsted a number of occasions this summer time to complain about 10 members of the central staff being deployed to Harris Philip Lane for Ofsted and being “handed off” as common employees of the varsity.
The union demanded motion, calling for Ofsted to research the “deliberate, premeditated structural dishonest” of the inspection course of.
In a single different critical allegation, a supply says report logs on a faculty safeguarding system referred to as CPOMS, used for monitoring youngster safety points, have been allegedly “faked” on the night time earlier than an Ofsted inspection in April 2017. This was at Harris Free Faculty Peckham, one other Harris Federation main.
The Harris Federation stated the allegation referring to safeguarding data was false and “baseless”. It stated use of the CPOMS system was not an Ofsted requirement and the varsity was utilizing an applicable paper-based system. Ofsted inspectors discovered the varsity’s safeguarding preparations have been efficient.
On the coronary heart of the row are differing views on the position of the Harris Federation’s central staff and the way it may be deployed in Ofsted inspections.
The federation says the floating staff of extremely certified academics are in place to help faculties all yr round and this mannequin is among the large advantages for faculties which might be a part of the multi-academy chain.
A spokeswoman for the Harris Federation stated: “We make use of a tremendous workforce of 60 academics, not to allow them to sit in our head workplace all day lengthy, however to allow them to be deployed to work in our faculties all year long, coaching and supporting different academics, filling short-term staffing gaps and standing in entrance of pupils giving them the most effective schooling going.
“We’re open about this strategy and our central workforce is all the time recognized to inspectors. The transparency and efficacy of those preparations is why the help of the federation is often highlighted within the Ofsted reviews of our faculties.”
It admits central group employees are at college throughout Ofsted inspections, however says they work throughout the federation’s faculties all yr round.
Ofsted underneath hearth
However those that have spoken out worry there’s a systemic drawback in each the best way Harris is working and Ofsted’s obvious failure to behave over this.
A Harris governor who spoke to HuffPost UK, additionally on situation of anonymity, stated: “There’s a wider feeling that Ofsted have their arms tied, as a result of they will’t examine the multi-academy chain itself.
“So the multi-academy chain is taking a variety of these selections and who’s truly monitoring whether or not they’re the proper selections? So there’s no reasonable image of what precisely is occurring.”
When HuffPost UK requested Ofsted instantly about using the central workforce employees at Harris faculties, it stated inspections are based mostly on proof of a faculty’s efficiency over time and never solely on what’s seen on the day of inspection.
An Ofsted spokesman stated: “We’re conscious of the Nationwide Schooling Union’s considerations concerning the deployment of central educating employees and these have been taken under consideration throughout current inspections.
“Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector has been clear that she would really like the Division for Schooling to offer Ofsted the facility to examine multi-academy trusts immediately.”
The Nationwide Schooling Union stated the allegations referring to Harris confirmed the inherent weaknesses within the present system of Ofsted inspections and referred to as for the Division of Schooling to step in and take motion.
Martin Powell-Davies, London regional secretary of the NEU, stated: “A system that may be performed that means, and but has such necessary penalties, is a system that must be checked out.”
He referred to as for Ofsted to make clear whether or not all faculties might usher in skilled academics throughout inspections to “degree the enjoying subject”, saying: “If that makes the entire system farcical then it shouldn’t be allowed within the first place.”
‘Strain to carry out’
Extra broadly, the whistleblowers who spoke to HuffPost UK allege the stress exerted on faculties by the Harris Federation to carry out nicely in Ofsted is intense.
One supply stated the federation places “unimaginable strain” on headteachers to get the degrees of efficiency required, whereas others expressed considerations concerning the turnover of headteachers at some faculties.
“They get bonuses in the event that they get the outcomes and if not they’re pushed out,” one Harris former employees member advised HuffPost UK. “Youngsters are getting used as a commodity and educating employees are pushed to the brink.
“Academics are being made to fall on their swords whereas Harris Federation employees are like Teflon; indestructible.”
Others described the charged environment at Harris Federation conferences, that are stated by insiders to have a tradition of competitiveness that might rival metropolis funding banks.
One ex-Harris instructor, who has greater than 20 years expertise, stated graphs rating each faculties’ efficiency are proven on huge screens, with beneath performers “named and shamed” and “made to squirm”.
“It places big strain on the academics, as a result of yearly you understand it’s coming,” the individual stated. “You must sit there and be the worst performing faculty and you may solely achieve this a lot with the cohort you’ve received.”
The Division of Schooling (DfE) stated Ofsted was an unbiased physique and any complaints about faculty inspections ought to be directed to them.
A spokesman for DfE informed HuffPost UK: “We’ve a strong course of for monitoring the efficiency of multi-academy trusts and making certain their progress is sustainable.
“All academy trusts should have an exterior audit of their annual accounts by a registered auditor to make sure constant ranges of scrutiny. There isn’t any equal requirement for native authority faculties to publish particular person accounts.”
HuffPost UK additionally contacted Lord Harris for remark in his capability as sponsor and chairman of the multi-academy chain, however was informed the response from the Harris Federation mirrored his place. Lord Harris was chairman of Carpetright Plc till he left in 2014, bought all of his shares and he’s not related to the corporate.
*HuffPost UK spoke to a number of sources for this investigation, all former Harris academics, employees or serving governors. All requested anonymity for worry of damaging repercussions for his or her careers in the event that they have been named.