Amanda Spielman rejected by cross-party MPs for Ofsted chief inspector role

The House of Commons education committee has rejected the government’s proposal that Amanda Spielman become the next chief inspector of Ofsted.

But Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, has signalled her belief that her candidate is still “the best person” for the job.

Spielman, chair of Ofqual, was named on June 10 as the government’s preferred candidate to succeed Sir Michael Wilshaw.

But, following a pre-appointment hearing on June 29, the education committee raised “significant concerns”, criticising Ms Spielman’s lack of “passion for the role” and the fact she had not worked as a teacher.

Neil Carmichael, the committee chair, said that although Ms Spielman had good experience of secondary schools, her understanding of other aspects such as early years, primary education, further education and children’s services, seemed lacking.

“Ms Spielman’s responses on child protection were particularly troubling and did not inspire confidence that she grasped the importance of Ofsted’s inspections in preventing children being held at risk through service failure.”

But, in a letter to the chair, and released publicly by the committee, Morgan said she remained “wholeheartedly in support” of Spielman and believed she was “the best person” for this “crucial role”.

Carmichael recognised it was “unusual” for a select committee to reject the preferred candidate, but added that it must “hold government to account”.

At the time of going to print, the government was still considering the committee’s report.

Thirty-two applications were initially received for the post and Ms Spielman won out against a number of high-profile candidates – reportedly including Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, and Toby Salt, chief executive of the Ormiston academies trust.

The National Union of Teachers and Association of Teachers and Lecturers both raised concerns when Spielman’s selection was announced.

Hearing on Wednesday of the committee feedback, Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the ATL, said: “Amanda Spielman does not have the profession’s confidence. She has never taught or led a major public institution, nor has she shown any signs of challenging problematic government policy.”

Defending herself in a letter to Carmichael, Spielman claimed that she made clear in her evidence that she “understood the breadth and scope of the role”, and emphasised she had a different style to her predecessor.

“I want to intervene to prompt action, rather than to comment on every issue in education or children’s services,” she said.

The committee also recommended a permanent deputy chief inspector of children’s services be appointed, with a remit to develop plans for separating Ofsted into two inspectorates, one for education and skills, the other for children’s services.

Spielman is not the first example of a select committee choosing not to support the government’s preferred candidate for a particular post.

In 2009, Maggie Atkinson was put forward as the government’s preferred candidate for children’s commissioner and was appointed by Ed Balls, despite a negative report from the children, families and schools committee.

In 2011, the justice select committee refused to endorse Diana Fulbrook as HM chief inspector of probation, leading to Liz Calderbank’s appointment on a temporary basis.

And in 2012 the business, innovation and skills committee declined to endorse Les Ebdon as director of the Office for Fair Access, but Vince Cable, then the business secretary went ahead with the appointment.

There were also two incidents in 2011 and 2013 when candidates withdrew after negative feedback.

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  1. As a primary school teacher I acknowledge the benefits of accountability for the education system, but worry on a personal level about its fair implementation. I have just watched Amanda Spielman being grilled for well over an hour by the education select committee, and I absolutely love this woman. I know nothing about Nicky Morgan other than what she says in her letter of rebuttal to the committee, but that letter seems to be spot on. Not all of the committee members were hostile – the Geordie guy and some of the lady members seemed lovely. I was however dismayed by the apparent assumption of the two or three most vocal members of the committee that the essence of good leadership of OFSTED is to be a crusader who makes changes for change’s sake, and who knows all the answers to this complicated role before their first minute in the job. I find huge irony in the apparent fact that a woman without one minute of teaching experience seems so much better attuned to the challenges facing the teaching profession that her predecessor, who was an astonishingly successful head teacher. I feel that Michael Wilshaw made the mistake of relying on his experience of three schools where he had to get rid of worn out teachers as his way of understanding the entire country. I prefer the humbler, intelligent, evidence based approach which Amanda Spielman promises. There may be a time and a place for ‘crusaders’ like Michael Wilshaw in many areas of government, but at this time education needs an Amanda Spielman. Members of the committee were nonplussed when she was asked to identify the biggest challenge facing education today, and she identified the volume of changes in the education system constantly being pushed through; why had she not mentioned our comparative position to Poland in the PISA tests? Because she doesn’t deal with enormously complex problems by shouting, bullying and soundbites. And because she listens. I actually feel optimistic about the new term and our forthcoming inspection, just from watching this video. I hope the new education secretary sticks with Amanda Spielman.