Michael Gove denies attack on Ofsted chief

Michael Gove and Sir Michael Wilshaw Michael Gove (left) appointed Sir Michael Wilshaw in January 2012

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Education Secretary Michael Gove has denied claims his team briefed against England's chief inspector of schools, saying anyone who did would be sacked.

Sir Michael Wilshaw had earlier said he was "spitting blood" after the Times reported two right-leaning think tanks were to criticise Ofsted.

He had accused the Department for Education of briefing against the body.

Sir Michael later said he was pleased by Mr Gove's assurance but would defend his team against "unfair criticism".

Think tanks Policy Exchange and Civitas both confirmed they were working on reports on Ofsted, but denied their work was being done with encouragement from the Department for Education.

Start Quote

I have talked to the secretary of state today and I know that he is 100% supportive of my leadership”

End Quote Sir Michael Wilshaw Ofsted chief
'Superb professional'

On Friday, the Times reported both think tanks were preparing to call for a radical overhaul of the Ofsted inspection regime, claiming it was trapped by 1960s "progressive" approaches to learning.

It said Civitas would say Mr Gove's wish for schools to develop their own approaches to teaching was being held back by child-first orthodoxies among inspectors, who were stifling innovation.

The paper said Policy Exchange, which was set up by the education secretary, would say the current inspection regime placed disproportionate pressure on teachers, while its judgments were too inconsistent.

In a statement on Sunday afternoon, Mr Gove said Sir Michael was a "superb professional and an outstanding chief inspector" who was making the changes Ofsted needed to help raise standards.

He said: "No-one working for me has had anything to do with any campaign against him or briefing against him. No one working for me has sought to undermine his position. Anyone who did would be instantly dismissed."


Opponents used to talk about "the Two Michaels", such was the assumed unity of purpose between Sir Michael Wilshaw and Michael Gove.

Teachers' unions routinely accused the Ofsted chief of lacking independence from the education secretary.

But this row, in the shadows of briefings and think tanks, suggests some of the fault lines.

Apart from Sir Michael's hackles being raised by the criticism of Ofsted, he is sending a signal about his intentions not to give any special treatment to academy chains or free school providers.

Sir Michael, a former academy head teacher, has said the chains which run groups of academies must be open to scrutiny by Ofsted, in the way that local authority services can be inspected.

This Ofsted boss has turned around tough schools. He's been there, done it - and in his case, not so much got the T-shirt as got the crisp suit and tie.

And no one would doubt his single-mindedness or willingness to challenge vested interests if he believes it will raise school standards.

In a fresh statement following Mr Gove's comments, Sir Michael said he was "proud" of his team at Ofsted and always sought "to defend them from unfair criticism and those setting out to make mischief".

"I have talked to the secretary of state today and I know that he is 100% supportive of my leadership," he said.

"I was very pleased to be assured by the secretary of state that there are no briefings against Ofsted from the department or people working for him."

He said both men now hoped "this is the end of the matter" and he was looking forward to continuing to work closely with Mr Gove to ensure school standards continued to rise.

Sir Michael, who inspects children's services as well as schools in England, was appointed by the coalition and he and Mr Gove have been thought of as allies.

He has also drawn criticism from teachers' unions in the past, and defended his organisation, saying it had done "more to raise standards in 21 years of existence than any other organisation".

Earlier Civitas director David Green said the idea that Mr Gove was directing its criticism of Ofsted was "well wide of the mark", saying the think tank had had "serious misgivings" for years.

"The fact is, whatever Sir Michael Wilshaw's intentions, we know schools that would like to innovate are scared to do so because of the misguided notions of many Ofsted inspectors. It would not be in Michael Gove's power to 'call off' our criticism whether he wanted to or not."

A spokeswoman for the Policy Exchange confirmed that it too was working on a report on Ofsted, but said: "We haven't been told to do that and if we were we wouldn't."

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