Ofsted refuses to back down after NEU Twitter row

Ofsted has refused to back down after a Twitter spat where one of its top officials said it was “impossible” to work with a union that constantly calls for the inspectorate to be abolished.

Sean Harford, director of education at Ofsted, tweeted that Mary Bousted’s leadership of the National Education Union was preventing dialogue between the two organisations.

Bousted said the comment was “startling” and showed the inspectorate will “engage only with those who believe it has an inalienable right to exist”.

The chief inspector Amanda Spielman also waded in, defending Harford who she said was “highlighting the difficulties of getting constructive input from NEU”.

Bousted has pledged to write officially to Spielman after the row, but Ofsted has refused to back down.

When asked for an official comment on the row, an Ofsted spokesperson pointed Schools Week to a critical comment it provided last week in relation to a different story where Bousted accused Spielman of not being a “safe pair of hands”.

The spokesperson said: “Once again it is Dr Bousted providing the constant stream of criticism and negativity about the education system, rather than recognising the achievements of her own members.”

However Harford has since tweeted that his use of the word “impossible” was “incorrect”. He added: “As I said, this is about discussion and influence; that’s what’s missing currently from the NEU stance.”

The row kicked off after Harford responded to a tweet on Saturday which stated all unions should be “working together for a common good”.

the NEU has continually called and still calls for the abolition of Ofsted, which makes working together to improve things impossible

He said: “I would agree about working together; the problem is, the NEU has continually called and still calls for the abolition of Ofsted, which makes working together to improve things impossible”.

Bousted responded by stating the NEU does call for the inspectorate’s abolition, adding Ofsted had been responsible for promoting triple marking, spearheading a drive for data, and had to “purge” 1,200 inspectors because they “were not good enough”.

Harford then told Bousted it was “impossible, under your leadership, to try to work with your union to improve things for all in education.

He added: “Which leaves a lot of teachers as your members without a credible voice at the table”.

When criticised by a Twitter user for his “shocking admission”, Harford pointed to an earlier tweet which said the NEU has seats at all of Ofsted’s union meetings.

Bousted tweeted in response that Harford’s words were “inadvertent” and “startling”, adding:
“Ofsted will engage only with those who believe it has an inalienable right to exist.”

Spielman then intervened, stating: “Mary, that is not what Sean said. You know that we continue to put the same substantial effort into engaging constructively with NEU as we do with all other major stakeholders. Sean highlighted the difficulties of getting constructive input from NEU.”

Harford had singled out the NEU for being too oppositional, arguing the union was the “outlier” among the teaching unions.

However, Bousted retorted that Harford’s tweet was “on twitter for all to see” and said she would be writing to Spielman about the matter. She was not willing to release details of the letter until Spielman has had a chance to respond.

But Harford has since tweeted that: “Mary seems to think it’s okay to be personal about a public servant but expect no push back. Unfortunately, maybe for her, the new SM [social media] world means that public servants, who are expected to engage and listen, also have a voice to challenge.”