‘The government’s attempt to ‘fix’ the agenda of England’s independent inspectorate by appointing one of its own persuasion as chief inspector is not just an ideological step too far. It is an indefensible abuse of political power,’ writes Professor Robin Alexander in a scorching critique of Nicky Morgan’s search for Sir Michael Wilshaw’s successor as Chief Inspector of Schools.
Rage burns from the page. Robin doesn’t just skewer Morgan’s consideration of four candidates from the United States Charter School movement as contenders to fill Sir Michael’s boots. He spikes the list of home-grown ‘talent’. These names are ‘All are within the inner ministerial circle of school leaders whose politically compliant views are rewarded with access, patronage, gongs, and seats on this or that DfE ‘expert group’ whose job is to dress up as independent advice what the government wishes to hear.’
It shouldn’t be like this, Robin writes. The Ofsted chief is supposed to be impartial and not someone who vigorously promotes the Government agenda. Rather s/he should be drawn from the ranks of ‘independent-minded and genuinely talented people [who] may conclude from inspection or research evidence that flagship policy x, on which minister y’s reputation depends, isn’t all it is cracked out to be. They put children before their own advancement. They dare to speak truth to power.’
But daring to speak truth to power doesn’t appear to be an attribute valued by either Nicky Morgan or her predecessor Michael Gove. The latter surrounded himself with those who supported him – placing them on ‘advisory’ groups; praising them in speeches, rewarding them with honours. Their sole value was in compliance. Those who opposed Gove’s policies were called ‘enemies of promise’ who were ‘happy with failure’. And this still continues, although less aggressively, in Morgan’s constant praise of academies and Nick Gibb’s sniping at education ‘orthodoxies’ (that is, anything Gibb doesn’t like).
The next Ofsted head should have the courage and clout to ensure ‘well-founded policies gain a hearing, ill-founded policies are abandoned before they do lasting damage, and the education system is “reformed” in the ameliorative sense rather than merely reorganised as part of the latest ministerial vanity project,’ Robin says.
What the education system in England does not need is a Department for Education-friendly puppet as Chief HMI. Such a person would not have or deserve the confidence of schools, parents or pupils.
What our children and young people need is someone who will speak up for them rather than push a particular Government policy – someone who will refuse to don the DfE blinkers and be genuinely independent.
Someone like Robin Alexander, perhaps?