Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A New Chief Inspector: A New Era for Ofsted?

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A New Chief Inspector: A New Era for Ofsted?

Article excerpt

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. …

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