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Education Select Committee rejects Ofsted chief inspector candidate

A conflict has emerged between the Education Select Committee and the government after the cross-party group of MPs refused to approve the appointment of Amanda Spielman, the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) preferred candidate, as Ofsted chief inspector.

The committee said it was concerned Spielman didn’t understand the services Ofsted inspects other than secondary education, and the importance of child protection.

In its report, it said there should be separate inspection bodies for schools and children’s services.

Neil Carmichael, the Conservative MP for Stroud and chair of the Education Select Committee, said: “As a committee, we did not leave the session with the view that Amanda Spielman was prepared for the vast scope and complexity of this important role. It is unusual for a select committee to find itself unable to support the government's preferred candidate for a public appointment.

“However, it is our responsibility to hold government to account and the seriousness of our concerns regarding this appointment has led us to produce this report to the House of Commons. With this in mind, we call on the secretary of state not to proceed with Ms Spielman's appointment."

He said there was “no urgency” in the process of finding the right candidate because Sir Michael Wilshaw, the current inspector, doesn’t leave his post until the end of the year.

Lack of passion

The committee’s report says that, during her evidence session, Spielman didn’t demonstrate “passion” for the role or consider “raising standards and improving the lives of children and young people” her primary motivation.

It also says that Spielman’s current post, as chair of the Office of Qualifications and Exams Regulations (Ofqual), has given her experience of secondary education, but she did not demonstrate understanding of other areas overseen by Ofsted, such as primary education, children’s services and higher education.

The committee also expressed concern that Spielman’s lack of direct experience of teaching or social care meant she would be unable to “build bridges” with those professions.

In its conclusion to the report, the committee not only refused to support Spielman’s appointment, but also said that Ofsted’s remit is “too large”.

“At a time of almost permanent change in education, and increasing reform of children’s social care, we are moving towards a point at which the job of HMCI [Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector] will be too great for one person,” it said.

The committee called on the DfE to use the opportunity of the new chief inspector’s appointment to appoint a new permanent deputy chief inspector for children’s services and give the new chief inspector a remit to develop separate inspectorates for education and children’s services, supported by legislative proposals from the Department.

It said it was “deeply troubled” by Spielman’s comment that “you cannot say the buck stops with Ofsted” on child protection, saying it failed to acknowledge that Ofsted should be held to account for failing to spot systematic failure.

DfE response

In her response to the committee, Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, said: “Whilst I am grateful for the consideration the committee has put into the matter and take your views very seriously, I remain wholeheartedly in support of Amanda as the best person for this crucial role. I would be grateful if you would consider looking again at the evidence.”

Spielman also wrote a response, saying she had worked in education for fifteen years and considered it “quite simply, the most important thing in the world”.

She said that in the evidence session: “I was very clear that I understood the breadth and scope of the role. I have already spent time familiarising myself with Ofsted’s complex work and developing approach in children’s services, and working out how to make sure that side of the organisation is secured for the future.

“There have been some terrible failings in children’s services in recent years, and as I said to the committee, I am very conscious that for many vulnerable children Ofsted is the only protection they have against unsatisfactory care. I could not take this more seriously.”

However, Spielman said her approach to inspection would be different from Sir Michael’s, which has involved public statements on issues such as ‘teacher brain drain’ overseas.

Spielman said Sir Michael “has made the role a more personal platform than any other HMCI I know of, apart from Chris Woodhead; and focuses more on criticism than on distilling insights”.

“But Ofsted is only effective in raising standards if its feedback is acted on,” she added. “I want to intervene to prompt action, rather than to comment on every issue in education or children’s services.”

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