Education & Family

New Ofsted boss quizzed on lack of teaching experience

Amanda Spielman

The government's preferred candidate for the next chief inspector of schools in England has been challenged over her lack of experience as a teacher.

Amanda Spielman faced tough questioning on Wednesday from the Education Select Committee over how she intended to address concerns from the profession.

The MPs will now consider whether or not to endorse her appointment and report back "in due course".

Ms Spielman currently chairs exams regulator Ofqual.

Labour MP Stephen Timms said it was not unreasonable for teachers to feel the chief inspector should be someone with teaching experience.

"It seems to me, you probably do need to build some bridges with the teaching profession, and, from your answers, it sounds as though you don't really recognise that as something you need to do," he said.

"I wonder if you'd recognise there is a need to build some bridges there."

Ms Spielman paused and said: "It's something that will always be there, that I haven't been a teacher, but I think I have so much else that I have to make sure that the team as a whole does have plenty of direct experiences. I truly don't see that as a real impediment to doing the job."

Conservative MP William Wragg asked her: "Will it be odd to have a chief inspector who hasn't had that front-line experience in the classroom or, indeed, as we've not discussed yet, social care experience, given the remit of Ofsted?"

She replied: "I don't think so at all. First, as you've just pointed out, Ofsted is not just all about schools, there's a great deal else.

"I don't think there is anybody who has deep experience of everything it covers.

"No matter what, there are going to be some gaps, and it's about having the person who understands and makes sure the management team as a whole works to do the job that matters.

"And secondly, even in relation to schools... we've been through a very clear transition away from telling teachers how to do their job.

"And if that's what Ofsted was, then maybe the sort of national super-head model would be the right one, but I think there was very clear system agreement that that is not what's wanted."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Michael Wilshaw is a hard act to follow

Mr Timms asked her if she was willing to be "as outspoken" as the current head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, had been.

She said: "I think my style is very different.

"I come back to this - I have no fear of saying anything, but I do want to make sure it is grounded in the evidence that Ofsted holds.

"I would not want to get drawn into expressing personal opinions, and I think that's one of the difficulties for any holder of this job... to make sure they stay anchored to the organisation and its evidence."

Asked by Labour MP Ian Austin what was the single biggest challenge facing the education sector, Ms Spielman paused and said "absorbing the enormous amount of change" was "typically preoccupying" teachers.

Mr Austin responded by saying people did not need access to Ofsted's detailed data to know standards in schools were not good enough and that England was falling behind countries such as South Korea, Finland, Poland, Estonia and Slovakia in basic skills.

He told Ms Spielman: "If you're not coming to this saying, 'Standards aren't good enough, I've got a mission to drive them up, this is how I'm going to do it, I'm going to be evangelical about school improvement and enabling young people in Britain to fulfil their potential,' I'm sort of worried about that if I'm honest."

Tory MP Neil Carmichael, who chairs the committee and appeared frustrated with Ms Spielman during the hour and 40 minute session, was particularly cutting over an answer she gave over child protection.

"We're in danger straying into data again," he said. "I was hoping to have a sentence without that word 'data' in it."

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