Ofsted chief hits back at critics

Published: Friday 10th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has insisted he did not take up the role to “curry favour” following reports that ministers and senior government officials considered replacing him amid frustrations over his performance.

In a statement, he said he would not allow the school’s watchdog to be politicised, and would not be swayed from making tough decisions to raise education standards.

His comments come after a leaked Department for Education (DfE) memo revealed that high-level discussions had been held about the “serious and growing problem” of Ofsted and Sir Michael’s management abilities.

The document, seen by the Guardian, was signed by Dominic Cummings, then special adviser to former education secretary Michael Gove.

It says that Mr Cummings, schools minister Lord Nash and DfE board member Theo Agnew were “increasingly alarmed” about the inspectorate.

The memo was also sent to DfE permanent secretary Chris Wormald and other senior officials and was followed by a serious of meetings involving Mr Gove, the Guardian reported.

This resulted in pressure on Sir Michael to shift Ofsted’s role and frustration at his resistance to efforts to reform it, the newspaper said.

But Sir Michael insisted he would not be deterred from “shining a light” on under-performance in any type of school, including academy chains and free schools – a key plank of Conservative education policy – as well as local council-run schools.

“The document leaked to the Guardian comes as no surprise to me,” he said.

“Indeed, I raised my concerns publicly about plots and smear campaigns against Ofsted and me personally by political advisers back in January. I am in good company. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have also come under fire from one particular former adviser to Michael Gove.

“I didn’t come into this role to curry favour with particular vested interests. I took on this job with one single ambition: to improve the life chances of all children in this country.

“It is what all of Her Majesty’s Inspectors do on a daily basis in order to raise standards and safeguard children.

“As England’s schools system becomes increasingly autonomous and fragmented, robust and independent inspection is more important than ever. Ofsted must be able to hold every institution to account without fear or favour.

“I will not allow Ofsted to be politicised and I will not be swayed from making the difficult decisions that are sometimes necessary to raise standards in our country. Nor will I be deterred from shining a spotlight on poor performance, whether in academy chains, free schools or local authority schools, no matter how uncomfortable this may be for some people.”

In January, Sir Michael said in an interview that he was “spitting blood” over right-wing attacks on Ofsted, following reports that two right-wing think tanks were drawing up plans to reform or even replace the watchdog.

At the time, he indicated that DfE staff may have been involved in a briefing campaign against him – a claim strongly denied by Mr Gove.

Sir Michael later told MPs that he may have made an error in firing the accusation at the department before checking the facts, saying that his comments were “a spontaneous act of fury”.

He also told the education select committee that he had received assurances from Mr Gove that there had been no briefing against him.

In his statement today, Sir Michael accepted that Ofsted is “not perfect”, but insisted that it is a “force for good”.

The Ofsted boss yesterday announced sweeping proposals to overhaul inspections including shorter, more frequent checks of schools rated as “good”.

Hundreds of good schools are slipping in performance each year, with “rot” able to set in within months, he warned.

But he also announced that he will not be pressing ahead with plans for all state schools in England to face snap inspections – a plan that was resurrected following the “Trojan Horse” crisis in Birmingham in the summer. Schools usually get half a day’s notice of an inspection

Sir Michael insisted that he was not “caving in” over the policy, and that the number of unannounced inspections would increase using Ofsted’s existing powers.

In the wake of reports into the alleged Trojan Horse takeover plot by hardline Muslims at a number of Birmingham schools, Sir Michael had said that he would look again at routine unannounced inspections, a policy that was first mooted around two years ago but later dropped amid strong opposition from school leaders.

Senior politicians, including Prime Minister David Cameron had called for routine no-notice inspections in response to investigations into the alleged Trojan Horse plot.

A DfE spokeswoman said the department did not comment on leaked documents.

” Sir Michael Wilshaw and Ofsted are doing a very important job, including critical work around child protection,” she said.

“The Secretary of State has a constructive working relationship with Sir Michael Wilshaw.”

Published: Friday 10th October 2014 by The News Editor

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