'Amanda Spielman is not an ex-head. But she is a leader – and that's what Ofsted needs'

The schools inspectorate is a large and complicated department. It doesn't need a 'chief inspector' at all – it needs someone who excels at management. And that's what it's going to get

Jonathan Simons

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Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Schools is undoubtedly a prestigious title. The trouble is that it's also a misleading one. HMCI is not actually the chief inspector: he or she is not trudging round the country inspecting schools and other settings. Rather, a more accurate (though less engaging) title would be chief regulator, or chief assessor. 

Ofsted is an agency of government. It has a large budget – about £125 million by the end of the Parliament. It employs some 1,600 staff on a permanent basis and a further 2,000 inspectors on contract. The head of Ofsted – like the head of Ofqual, or the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Education – is ultimately in charge of ensuring that their organisation runs effectively. That does mean discharging its main responsibilities, which for Ofsted means evaluating the quality of a large number of education settings. But it also means ensuring that it doesn't go over budget in doing so, that it is fully staffed, that its systems and processes run effectively, and that it operates honestly yet harmoniously with the politicians who bear ultimate elected accountability for the performance of the service. That requires, above all else, a chief executive who is a leader. 

Public services are becoming incredibly complex to manage. The organisations that run them are increasingly independent and visible (and accountable). People who use them Have raised expectations of what they ought to receive. Transparency of data and use of social media means that it is ever easier to find out how services are performing, to compare them and to complain if standards aren't high enough. And budgets are being squeezed at the same time that demand, and hence cost, is rising in many areas. 

Of course, public services require outstanding professionals at all levels to deliver services – nurses, social workers, firefighters and teachers. But they also require high-quality leaders to make sure the services meet the rising challenges placed upon them. And all too often, leaders are treated with scepticism. Professionals who choose to get promoted into "management", or, even worse, those who come into an organisation at a leadership level without having worked their way up, are often thought to be somehow less appropriate. The suspicion among some is that they are insufficiently committed to the ideals of the service. 

Amanda Spielman is a leader.  She helped develop one of this country's leading academy chains and played a major part in delivering its ongoing successful expansion, financial probity and exceptional academic standards. She has led a major agency of government and dealt smoothly and calmly with a whole series of complex regulatory issues that would have sunk many while leading – that word again – Ofqual staff and maintaining the respect of the regulated exam boards. She is also, it should not be forgotten, steeped in education – from an academic background as well as many years in a non-executive capacity in various education settings, in addition to her time at Ark and Ofqual. 

She is not an ex-teacher. She is not an ex-head. She is a leader with a proven track record of delivering complex public services and large-scale people and budgetary management. From a strong field, she is undoubtedly the right choice.

Jonathan Simons is head of education at Policy Exchange.

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Jonathan Simons

Jonathan Simons is a director and head of education practice at Public First, and has seen Home Alone too many times for a grown man

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