Ofsted: 'No formal recruitment process' for subject curriculum groups

Ofsted’s national director of education has admitted there was no formal recruitment process for new subject curriculum groups, following allegations of “pedagogical bias”.

Sean Harford has defended the make-up of the groups, which have come under fire for alleged dominance by education traditionalists and government supporters, claiming Ofsted recruited group members “who we feel have the subject-specific curriculum expertise to help us think through the issues at hand”.

The five groups – for English, maths, history, modern foreign languages and science – will help Ofsted to “learn about and be better placed to engage in the ongoing debate about subject-specific curriculums in schools across England”.

We felt it impractical, financially unfeasible and overly-bureaucratic to have such a formal recruitment process for each group

Many of those named have sat on various Department for Education working groups – raising concerns over a lack of independence between the organisations. In fact, four of the five members of Ofsted’s MFL group took part in a DfE review of languages in 2016.

Other notable names include academy trust head Ian Bauckham, who has advised the government on various matter, including sex education and languages, and Christine Counsell, who until recently worked for Inspiration Trust, the MAT founded by the academies minister Lord Agnew.

The make-up of the groups was first revealed by investigative news website Education Uncovered, and provoked debate on twitter over whether due process was followed.

But in a blog post published yesterday, Harford defended Ofsted’s actions, and insisted the groups would not make decisions about the way the inspectorate goes about its business.

“Given the range of subject areas we wish to ultimately consider, we felt it impractical, financially unfeasible and overly-bureaucratic to have such a formal recruitment process for each group,” he said.

“They are not decision-making groups. It’s up to Ofsted, as the independent inspectorate, to decide on potential next steps and how we might use the groups’ advice.”

Harford also revealed that Ofsted has “more groups planned for the near future”, and that the first groups, for history and MFL, were “very small and exploratory”.

Sean Harford

“The membership and work of all the groups continue to evolve. We have been adding group members as we identify the expertise we need. For example, when groups move from discussing secondary-specific issues to primary, we will add group members as necessary.

“We have found the practical, on-the-ground experience of teachers to be useful and so we have reflected this in the make-up of the later groups formed. The membership of the first two groups is subject to change to reflect this need. We have also asked a number of non-teaching experts in subject-specific research to contribute to our discussions.”

Although some of the criticism levelled at Ofsted is over the political views of some of the members, much of the debate on twitter has focused on the recruitment process.

Tom Rogers, an assistant headteacher and education writer, tweeted: “No disrespect to anyone on here – many I greatly admire. But let’s be honest – if this isn’t pedagogical bias from an inspectorate that’s supposed to be completely and utterly neutral, I don’t know what is!”

Raj Unsworth, who chairs a multi-academy trust and advises the Headteachers’ Roundtable group, said her concern was “not the named individuals as much as the process of selection, concern about overlap with DfE groups (Ofsted is supposed to be independent)”.

Tom Sherrington, a former headteacher-turned-education consultant, said: “I like the lists. Plenty of view points in there and key voices of reason, wisdom and experience. It looks like there’s been some kind of Twitter recruitment process which, if true, is an odd way to do it (not subject associations?) but I’ll have a lot of faith in what they say.”