07 Jul 2016, Jo Parkes
After questioning academies entrepreneur Amanda Spielman, the Education Committee described ‘significant concerns’ about her suitability for the post of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills (HMCI).
Committee chair Neil Carmichael gave a damning assessment of Ms Spielman’s canditature, describing as ‘particularly troubling’ her responses on child protection.
The surprise news follows much trumpeting of Ms Spielman’s abilities by education secretary Nicky Morgan, who backed her as a replacement for Sir Michael Wilshaw last month.
Ms Spielman, chair of exams regulator Ofqual, has never worked as a teacher, though the DfE said she had important experience helping oversee GCSE and A-level reform.
She also co-founded Ark, now a multi-academy trust which runs 34 academies, and which the DfE credits with having ‘transformed some of the most underperforming schools in the country’.
Mr Carmichael, the Conservative MP for Stroud, said, ‘The Government’s preferred candidate, Amanda Spielman, has a broad range of experience but failed to demonstrate to us the vision and passion we would expect from a prospective HMCI.
‘The new HMCI will face the task of leading Ofsted to raise standards and improve the lives of children and young people, and we were unconvinced that Ms Spielman would do this effectively.
'Ms Spielman has experience of secondary education but she did not persuade that she had a clear understanding of the other aspects of the chief inspector’s role, including early years, primary education, FE [Further education], and children’s services.
‘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.
‘As a committee, we did not leave the session with the view that Amanda Spielman was prepared for the vast scope and complexity of this important role.’
Urging the DfE to think again, Mr Carmichael added, ‘It is unusual for a Select Committee to find itself unable to support the Government’s preferred candidate for a public appointment.
‘However, it is our responsibility to hold Government to account and the seriousness of our concerns regarding this appointment has led us to produce this Report to the House of Commons.
‘There is no urgency in this process – Sir Michael’s term as HMCI does not expire until the end of the year.
‘With this in mind, we call on the Secretary of State not to proceed with Ms Spielman’s appointment.’
Last month’s recommendation was met with a barrage of criticism from teaching unions, including from one leader who said the motivation for her appointment was that she would be ‘less troublesome’ than Sir Michael.
Sir Michael was appointed by former education secretary Michael Gove and the two clashed over inspection of academy chains and plans for no notice inspections.
Reacting to the development, Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary for policy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said the union had previously pointed out the profession’s lack of confidence in Ms Spielman.
‘She has never taught or led a major public institution, nor has she shown any signs of challenging problematic Government policy,’ added Ms Ellis.
Deborah Lawson, general secretary of teaching union Voice, said, ‘Although a controversial figure, Sir Michael Wilshaw spoke with independent authority from his experience as a teacher and headteacher, and wasn’t afraid to criticise Government policy.
‘Ofsted should not be an extension of the Education Secretary’s office, with the Chief Inspector in the role of business manager.’
Ms Lawson remarked that Ofsted has been a ‘major contributory factor’ in driving teachers from the profession.
She continued, ‘Voice would like to see a supportive and positive, rather than punitive and negative, Ofsted that makes a constructive contribution to our schools.’
Ms Spielman is a Cambridge University graduate and a chartered accountant who worked in investment strategy between 1997 and 2001.
The DfE later confirmed that Ms Spielman remains the preferred candidate.
Ms Morgan said, 'I chose Amanda Spielman as my preferred candidate for Chief Inspector of Ofsted because I was impressed by her leadership, and absolute determination to raise standards to ensure every child gets the excellent education they deserve.
'That view was echoed by an independently chaired panel and her nomination has been supported by people from across the sector.
'As I have said I was disappointed that the decision wasn’t shared by the committee who I believe have underestimated her.
'Having considered their response, I remain 100 per cent confident in my decision and will continue with the pre-appointment process.
'I believe Ms Spielman will make a highly effective leader of Ofsted who will not shy away from challenging government, schools or local authorities to ensure the best for our children and under her watch Ofsted will play a hugely important role in driving improvement in childcare, schools, children’s services and adult learning.'
Ofsted chairman David Hoare was on the recruitment panel and the regulator confirmed he wrote to Ms Morgan emphasising her abilities.
In a Tweet this afternoon Ms Spielman welcomed Ms Morgan's decision to uphold the nomination.
She tweeted, 'I am really pleased that the Secretary of State is confirming my nomination as HMCI today - thank you to everyone who has expressed support
Her appointment has yet to be confirmed by the Privy Council.