Chief Inspector is "spitting blood" as he accuses DfE of briefing against him

Janet Downs's picture
When Michael Gove head-hunted Sir Michael Wilshaw to be Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, some suspected the relationship would be a little too cosy. Sir Michael had been on record as saying you knew you were doing a good job when teacher morale was low. Such sentiments would likely appeal to Gove.

LSN has often criticised Ofsted. Concerns included:

1 Would Ofsted changes increase pressure on schools to raise exam results by any means?
2 Is Ofsted friend or foe?
3 How independent is Ofsted?

And eighteen months ago I asked if it was time to call time on Ofsted.

One teachers’ union accused Sir Michael of being “Big Brother”. In 2013, the NAHT said Ofsted’s regime was “punitive and short term”.

But such criticisms as these seem not to have concerned Sir Michael – he’s told teachers to stop whining.

Other voices have complained Ofsted inspectors are too prescriptive and only validate certain teaching methods. Sir Michael has had to remind inspectors in a letter, reproduced on Helen Myers’ blog, that they must not “give the impression that we are still telling teachers how to teach.”

But now Sir Michael is “spitting blood” because of attacks on Ofsted from two right-wing think tanks. And Sir Michael claims the Department for Education has been briefing against him.

It’s reported that Civitas and Policy Exchange are undergoing inquiries into Ofsted. Their reports haven’t been published yet but the Times appears already to know the outcome: they want Ofsted scrapped.

Their calls for Ofsted to be disbanded are not because of the complaints given at the top of this thread, it appears. According to the BBC, “Civitas would say Mr Gove's wish for schools to develop their own approaches to teaching was being held back by child-first orthodoxies among inspectors, who were stifling innovation.”

In Sir Michael’s defence, he is on record as saying inspectors must not appear to tell teachers how to teach. And it’s unclear from the comment by Civitas, publishers of the Gove-approved “Core Curriculum” which is used in academies sponsored by schools minister Lord Nash, why it thinks “innovation” is only innovative when it isn’t informed by what it disparages as “child-first orthodoxies”. Surely if Gove is in favour of teachers’ professional freedom then it includes the freedom to use teaching methods which he personally dislikes?

So what could be the real reason why Civitas or Policy Exchange, which was set up by Gove some years ago and which published a Gove-endorsed report before the last election promoting for-profit schools, are attacking Ofsted?

Could it be because, as the Independent suggests, “Sir Michael reportedly angered Mr Gove's administration by insisting upon using the same Ofsted standards for free schools and academies as inspectors do with any other school”?

Apparently, Civitas wants a new inspectorate for academies and free schools. This is, of course, unacceptable. If there is an inspection regime (and not all countries have the equivalent of Ofsted), then it should be the same for all schools including independent ones.

Whatever the reason, Civitas and Policy Exchange are denying any outside influence.

But Sir Michael doesn’t believe them.

UPDATE 27 January 2014

According to the Guardian, the two Michaels are now best buddies again. Michael Gove has said he supports Michael Wilshaw "100%". Gove denies anyone employed by him has briefed against Sir Michael. Technically, of course, no-one at the DfE, including special advisers, are directly employed by Gove - they are civil servants (temporary ones, in the case of spads).

Nevertheless, Civitas has, according to the BBC, said it was motivated by a belief, attributed to Gove, that Ofsted is, in the words of the Times, "sixties-mired". It also apparently wants a different inspection regime for non-academies and academies/free schools. While any inquiry into Ofsted is welcome because of the numerous concerns listed at the start of this thread, it should be truly independent and not apparently motivated by what Gove thinks. Perhaps it's time the Education Select Committee had another look (see details of the Select Committee's 2011 Ofsted inquiry here).
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Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 02/02/2014 - 21:02

Andy - EBacc is not a curriculum. It is just five subjects.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 02/02/2014 - 21:11

Roger, permit me to repeat that I have never said it is "a curriculum" rather I have referred to it as being part of a broad and balanced curriculum but that Gove's original intention was for it to become an integral part of the school league tables alongside an arbitrary national floor target.

agov's picture
Mon, 03/02/2014 - 09:41

It certainly means that NuLab are at least as guilty as the Condems.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 03/02/2014 - 10:04

I would expand my personal conspiracy theory to the point that if Baroness Morgan was the real tangible substantive head of Ofsted then ergo she must be as tarnished as Gove and the Lib Dems in the way HMCI appears to have been manipulated as a political stick for government policy. It also follows that the recent comments from Baroness Morgan, David Laws, Nick Gibb, Grant Shapps and Gove are just another round of hyperbolic parliamentary rhetoric attempting to score points and or deflect from the truth (what that means to a politician).

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 03/02/2014 - 12:11

Baroness Morgan was never an impartial appointment. She continued as advisor to ARK academies while being Chair of Ofsted. This was a conflict of interest as pointed out at the time. She also advised the New Schools Network, the taxpayer funded charity which promotes free schools.

That said, perhaps Gove's got rid of her because she hasn't been as much of a poodle as he would like (in the same way that Sir Michael Wilshaw appears to be asserting his independence).

"Et tu, Michael", could be refrains from both Sally Morgan and Sir Michael.

It's probable the new appointment is unlikely to be "independent" in the same way that Baroness Morgan's wasn't.


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