A new chief inspector: a new era for Ofsted?

17th June 2016 at 00:00
We explore how the watchdog will change when Amanda Spielman takes over the reins

Ministers’ decision to name Amanda Spielman as their preferred candidate for Ofsted’s top job can be expected to usher in a very different era for the inspectorate.

As TES exclusively revealed last week (bit.ly/ASpielman), the chair of the exams regulator Ofqual has been recommended as the next Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), marking a significant change in direction.

Ofsted’s current head, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has acted as the nation’s headmaster, harking back to an era not seen since the reign of teachers’ bête noire Sir Chris Woodhead.

As a hugely successful former school leader, Sir Michael was able to draw on his past experience and reputation for credibility as he lambasted the country’s education standards and issued missives to the teaching profession on how they should dress. He could say it because he had done it.

‘Technocratic and efficient’

Having never been a teacher, it would be difficult for Ms Spielman to continue in a similar vein and, according to sources close to the 55-year-old, she has no desire to do so.

“She wants to be a visionary HMCI, not ‘I’ll do it my way’ like Michael Wilshaw, but in a more collegiate way. She is more technocratic, she runs organisations efficiently and she will want to take that to Ofsted, which would have appealed hugely to [education secretary] Nicky Morgan,” a source said.

Unlike Sir Michael, who attempted to cement Ofsted’s position as the country’s main driver of school improvement, Ms Spielman will instead emphasise efficacy and value.

“She is focused more on how Ofsted will fit into the wider system, how it will function alongside the regional school commissioners – big system oversight issues like that,” the source said. “One of her chief priorities is the financial management of the inspectorate, which comes from her background as a chartered accountant.”

Her approach – collaboration, efficiency, and keeping a close eye on the bottom line – is exactly what the Department for Education wanted. It became an open secret that ministers were increasingly frustrated with Sir Michael’s interventions on government policies, such as mass academisation. But it has been suggested that Ms Spielman’s closeness to the government could be more of an issue than her lack of teaching experience. TES understands that she helped to inform the drafting of the recent DfE White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere and even briefs Downing Street on education matters.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, warned that this closeness would diminish the “robust challenge” that Ofsted was meant to provide to government.

“I can see why Nicky Morgan wants someone who supports her policies, but uncritical support of government policy is not something that Ofsted should be doing,” Dr Bousted said. “She will be focused on running Ofsted efficiently and effectively. What will be lost is any challenge to policy.

“I think a huge element in this appointment is [ministers] saying: ‘Let’s not have another troublesome priest. And let’s get someone who will go with the programme.’”

The latter years of Sir Michael’s tenure have been punctuated by high-profile battles with ministers, not least after the dismissal of Baroness Sally Morgan as chair of Ofsted.

The incident marked a low point in relations between the inspectorate and the department, with Sir Michael “spitting blood” over alleged briefings against his organisation.

Communicate, don’t dictate

However, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, believes that such run-ins were counterproductive.

Mr Hobby, who was among the final three vying for the Ofsted job, said that teachers would want to see an HMCI who could communicate effectively, and not simply dictate what should happen inside the classroom. “Ofsted has to make the argument that it’s not just about data,” he said. “Why do we spend tens of millions of pounds a year sending people into schools? It has to make the case for the qualitative judgements.

“If you are making qualitative judgements, are you not making judgements of what’s going on in the classroom? That’s the challenge for the new chief inspector to navigate.”

Dame Sally Coates, director of academies south for academy chain United Learning, was another education big hitter approached to apply for the job.

Ms Spielman’s lack of a teaching background would put her at a “disadvantage”, Dame Sally said. But she still expects her to succeed.

“Amanda is very direct, straight-talking,” Dame Sally added. “She has got very high standards, high expectations, so I think that she will be a good chief inspector. I think those initial problems [resulting from not being a teacher] will go away.”


Urgent to-do list

Amanda Spielman will face an inbox overflowing with urgent tasks. Here, we list her some of the most pressing concerns.

Credibility Having no teaching experience, Ms Spielman will need to quickly establish her credibility with the profession. Many teachers and heads have turned against the inspectorate. Ms Spielman will have a tough job convincing them that Ofsted is worth listening to.

Redefining Ofsted Ministers want Ofsted to carry out a simpler, more regulatory role going forward, paring the body back to its core function as an inspection service.

Consistency This is often seen as the Achilles’ heel of the inspectorate. Last year, Ofsted purged 1,200 additional inspectors to improve the quality of inspections. Ms Spielman will be expected to build on the work already undertaken and improve standards further to ensure that inspections are trusted as a reliable measure of school performance.

Burden The Conservatives made a manifesto pledge to reduce the burden of inspections on schools and its impact on teacher workload. The new Ofsted regime, introduced last year, has made some inroads on this issue, but more will be expected.

Sir David Carter Ms Spielman will also need to forge a good working relationship with the national schools commissioner Sir David Carter, whom ministers want to take the lead on school improvement. The Schools Commissioners Group is still in its infancy, and how well it works with the inspectorate could be crucial to Ms Spielman’s performance as HMCI.

Covenant of the Ark

Amanda Spielman’s selection as next head of Ofsted speaks volumes about Ark’s position as the government’s favourite academy chain.

Ms Spielman, a former research director for Ark, will be the second HMCI in a row to have worked for the charity; Sir Michael Wilshaw was formerly its director of education.

Announcing Ms Spielman’s selection last week, education secretary Nicky Morgan described Ark as “one of the country’s top academy chains”.

To cap off a successful week for Ark, it was announced on Saturday that the chain’s founder Paul Marshall was to be knighted.

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