Minister moves to placate furious chief inspector

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Education secretary Michael Gove has threatened to sack any Department for Education (DfE)officials caught briefing against Ofsted.

It comes after a series of leaks suggests that there is a DfE-led campaign against Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools.

Two think-tanks – Civitas and Policy Exchange – are understood to be preparing reports that are expected to be highly critical of the current school inspection regime, one of which it is rumoured will call for Ofsted to be abolished altogether.

Sir Michael, who was appointed by Mr Gove in 2012, said in a newspaper interview last weekend that he was “spitting blood” about the situation and blamed the DfE for briefing against him ahead of the reports.

However, as SecEd was going to press this week, Mr Gove was swift to deny that his department was conspiring against Sir Michael, saying in a statement that the chief inspector was a “superb professional” and “outstanding”, and was making the changes Ofsted needed to help raise standards.

He said: “No-one working for me has had anything to do with any campaign against him or briefing against him. No-one working for me has sought to undermine his position. Anyone who did would be instantly dismissed.”

In response, Sir Michael stressed that he was proud of his team and would “defend them from unfair criticism and those setting out to make mischief”.

He said: “I have talked to the secretary of state today and I know that he is 100 per cent supportive of my leadership. I was very pleased to be assured by the secretary of state that there are no briefings against Ofsted from the department or people working for him.”

He said both men now hoped “this is the end of the matter” and that he was looking forward to continuing to work closely with Mr Gove to ensure school standards continued to rise.

The two men have traditionally been seen as close allies, to the extent that Ofsted has been perceived by many to be actively assisting the DfE in implementing its policies. 

However, the spat has led to speculation on social networking sites and teachers’ forums that Ofsted might be the next quango to be axed by the DfE. There was also discussion among teachers about whether the teaching unions would back Sir Michael publicly against Mr Gove, whose policies have proved so unpopular with the profession.

Representatives of both think-tanks have stressed the independence of their work and stated that Mr Gove had no influence over any of their findings. Both inquiries are understood to be underpinned by criticisms that Ofsted inspectors are stifling Mr Gove’s wish to see traditional teacher-led lessons in schools.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Inspection is essential to the accountability framework and should be a major driver in a virtuous circle of school improvement. 

“Inspection needs the confidence of the profession and needs to be able to report independently without fear or favour on the standards and quality of education in all parts of the education service. 

“Fairness and consistency must underpin the inspection process so that parents have reliable information about the education their children receive, and schools trust inspectors to give balanced judgements which reflect authentically the school’s work and which contribute to further improvement. Like any other public body, the work of Ofsted should be subject to regular independent review.”


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