Whispers from Westminster

29th April 2016 at 00:00
Six steps to becoming the next Ofsted chief

According to reports, the next Chief Inspector of Ofsted will be Russell Hobby of the NAHT heads’ union, Amanda Spielman of Ofqual, Toby Salt of Ormiston Academies Trust or Dame Alison Peacock of Wroxham School.

It has been rumoured that Salt and Spielman are the favourites, ahead of a final decision to be taken by Nicky Morgan.

But what will she really want from her new Chief Inspector? Forget the job description: here are the six key things that they will need to show they can do:

Have an understanding of children’s services. What’s the toughest bit of Ofsted? Dealing with local authorities’ children’s services. As of November 2015, not a single one was “outstanding”, half were “requires improvement”, and one in four were “inadequate” (since then, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster have been judged “outstanding”). Budgets aren’t helping – one senior manager in a London LA told me that between 2010-2018, while his resident child population rises 20 per cent, his budget will be cut by 60 per cent.

Within schools, focus on primaries. Ofsted inspect six times as many primaries as secondaries. And the two phases approach things in different ways. It would be nice to have policy views from Ofsted that aren’t always so secondary-centric.

Be an effective leader and manager. A large part of HMCI’s job isn’t being chief policy maker – or even chief inspector – it’s executing the day-to-day functions of leading an organisation with a £125m annual budget by 2020, at least 1,600 staff – including around 400 directly employed inspectors – and around 2000 inspectors on contract.

Calm things down. It’s fair to say that there has been, on occasions, some tension between Ofsted and schools, and also between it and the DfE. Some of this is inevitable and reflects Ofsted’s commitment to independence. But if I were NiMo, I’d want to see someone who can do the role efficiently and soothe troubled waters – there’s no shortage of other issues for the DfE and school leaders to focus on in the next few years.

Integrate with regional schools commissioners. It isn’t entirely clear how Sir David Carter and his RSC team will align with Ofsted in an academised system. The new HMCI and Sir David will be major policy beasts: they need to coordinate their agendas.

Have strong relationships. One of the implicit criteria for any hiring team is always, “Can I work with you?” NiMo will want someone who she is able to engage with both personally and professionally.

All in all, no small task – even for £180,000.

Jonathan Simons is a former head of education in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit under Gordon Brown and David Cameron

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