Skip to main content

Graceful flight of the disaffected

The flight of senior inspectors in recent months from the Office for Standards in Education has been aided by the review of management posts taking place across all Government departments.

Severance terms are being made available to civil servants in the higher grades as part of the Whitehall-wide strategy to reduce the number of senior managers. Within OFSTED it has provided an opportunity for the disillusioned and disaffected to depart with grace.

More than a dozen senior HMIs have left in the past six months. They include such distinguished figures as Roger Frost, the specialist on secondary education; Michael Convey, the specialist adviser on English; John Townsend, who had been on secondment. Several went to further their careers, including Tom Wylie, head of the curricular team, now running the National Youth Agency, and John Singh, formerly head of international affairs at OFSTED who now works for the British Council.

For the most part, those departing have declined to say publicly whether they were motivated by the prospect of an early retirement that would allow them to do other work or whether they no longer wanted to work for the organisation.

Only Colin Richards, former adviser on primary education, has broken with the HMI tradition of discretion and publicly attacked the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead.

Mr Richards departed OFSTED aggrieved at not being offered the job of primary team leader. The chief inspector had informed Mr Richards that he wanted a "fresh look" at primary. Mr Richards rejected an alternative post.

Within days of leaving OFSTED's shiny new offices in central London, Mr Richards accused Mr Woodhead of using statistics to support his personally-held views on the poor state of primary schools.

Other former HMIs are less willing to speak openly, but they also suggest the focus of their discontent was Mr Woodhead.

He is viewed as having an agenda and in its pursuit to have dispensed with the usual caution with which HMI used to hedge their judgments.

The result, according to one former HMI, is that simplistic solutions are put forward to complex problems. For example, in the case of the reading report in three London boroughs, the emphasis on the role of phonics has obscured the necessity for a serious debate on effective ways to teach reading.

As well as the departure of HMIs, the internal restructuring taking place has allowed Mr Woodhead to switch posts around.

In a move that took other HMIs by surprise, Kathleen Cross, formerly specialist adviser on maths has become a team member and has no subject responsibility. However, in the days when Mr Woodhead was chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, he and Ms Cross had been participants in a wrangle over the revised structure of the maths curriculum.

There are two conflicting interpretations of the outcome of the management review. Those in the Woodhead camp see it as OFSTED shedding advocates of more "woolly-headed" ideas on teaching.

Those in the opposing camp claim the organisation has lost inspectors with expertise because they believe independent-minded HMIs are no longer valued.

Events have been kind to Mr Woodhead. The management review has enabled him to mould an organisation and make new appointments at the level of middle-management.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you