Ofsted boss urged Gove not to sack the watchdog's chair

12th February 2014 at 11:04

The head of Ofsted said he pleaded with Michael Gove not to remove the chair of schools' inspectorate, adding that he felt she was "very good" at the job.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted's chief inspector, was giving evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee on Wednesday when he revealed he had urged the education secretary against not renewing the contract of Baroness Sally Morgan.

The decision by Mr Gove to remove the Labour peer sparked a serious political backlash among his Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues.   

And Baroness Morgan herself accused Mr Gove of removing her for political reasons, warning last week of the dangers of creating an “unfettered, unregulated market in education”.

When asked by the cross-party group of MPs if he was approached by the education secretary for his views on the move, Sir Michael said: "I was consulted by the secretary of state on his wish to do something about the chairmanship of Ofsted."

He later said: "I did say to the secretary of state that I wanted her to continue, that she was a very good chair and my working relationship with her was very strong."

Sir Michael told the committee that during his time as chief inspector he has enjoyed a good relationship with Baroness Morgan, particularly when he was first appointed and "various storms broke" around his overhaul of inspections, such as no-notice visits and scrapping the satisfactory rating.

"There was a huge amount of criticism about Ofsted, and particularly about me, and she stood four-square behind me and gave me a huge amount of support and advice."

In the week before Baroness Morgan's dismissal, Sir Michael gave an interview in which he said he was "spitting blood" over the way the inspectorate was being treated, claiming the Department for Education was involved in briefing against the agency.

He later told the committee he believed Mr Gove’s assurances that he had not issued such briefings against Ofsted.

"He's an honourable man, I accepted his word,” he said and admitted he had “probably” made an error in publicly hitting back. "It was a spontaneous act of fury,” he added.

Sir Michael also said he felt China had been “crafty” by only including its top-performing regions in international league tables.

He stressed the importance of England improving its performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) league tables, in which the UK was placed 26th out of 65 territories for maths, 21st in science and 23rd in reading.

Sir Michael told MPs that the main factor holding the country back was regional variation, with the Eastern region singled out as lagging behind the top performing areas.

In contrast, he praised London as one of the highest performing cities in the world. “If we’d put in London [independently], we’d have been right up there,” he said.

He argued that China had been “pretty crafty” by only submitting data for its best educational systems. Shanghai finished top of the tables for maths, reading and science. It was closely followed by the Chinese regions of Hong Kong and Macao, which overall were placed third and sixth respectively.

However the next set of tests in 2015 are likely to include a single score for the whole country. In December, a spokesman for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which runs Pisa, told TES: “I understand they expect enough Chinese regions to take part so they will be able to have a single [score] for the country as a whole."

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