The next chief inspector for England’s schools has dismissed criticism over her lack of teaching experience and told MPs that she does not see herself as a crusader for higher standards in schools.
Amanda Spielman, who will take over as Ofsted chief in January if she is approved by parliament, told the education select committee that she was open to discussions on the use of “outstanding” as the top rating awarded by inspectors, saying that the word made her uncomfortable.
Spielman was nominated as Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools by the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, after a career in finance and as a founder of the Ark academy chain, and faced immediate criticism from classroom teaching unions for her lack of formal experience as a teacher.
But in what was effectively her confirmation hearing, Spielman said she had received a “huge amount of positive reaction” since her nomination, including from the two headteachers’ unions.
“It’s something that will always be there, that I haven’t been a teacher,” she told MPs. “I have to make sure the team as a whole does have plenty of experience but I really don’t see that as a real impediment to doing the job.”
Spielman said she would focus on making sure that Ofsted’s structure allowed “the right skills” to be in place. “I don’t see it as a problem,” she said.
She also sought to reassure those worried her involvement with multi-academy trusts would make her too sympathetic to academy schools run by chains. Spielman said it was now “impossible” for Ofsted to avoid inspecting the management of academy chains.
Spielman drew a clear contrast with Ofsted’s incumbent Sir Michael Wilshaw, a former headteacher, saying that that the role of chief inspector was “not about being a superhead”. She also appeared to support criticisms of Ofsted’s ratings for schools, including the coveted “outstanding” status.
“I’m quite uncomfortable about some of the effects you see it having in the system, I have to say,” she told the committee, adding: “It’s something I would like to see fully discussed.”
Critics say the attempt to reach “outstanding” places unrealistic pressure on staff and penalises schools in deprived areas that struggle to ever qualify for the highest rating.
Spielman’s appearance coincided with new figures from Ofsted showing that the number of schools in England judged good or outstanding had reached record levels.
Ofsted’s inspection results in the current academic year mean that 86% of state schools in England are rated either good or outstanding.
But Wilshaw responded with a statement noting that of the 416 secondary schools inspected between September 2015 and March 2016, just 57% were rated good or outstanding.
“The nation should be worried. Our future prosperity depends on this generation of young people receiving a good education. So it is vital that we raise standards for all children and find lasting solutions to close the regional divide in secondary schools,” Wilshaw said.
During her hearing Spielman demurred when asked if she agreed with Wilshaw’s assertion that state schools remained “mediocre”, telling MPs that she saw the role of chief inspector as “dogged and relentless … rather than shouting at people”.
Meanwhile, the exam regulator Ofqual released a poll showing continued concerns over the conduct of GCSE and A-level examinations. The poll of staff, students and parents conducted by YouGov found that headteachers remain especially critical of the marking and consistency of GCSEs.
In response, a joint statement by the National Association of Head Teachers and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference said trust in exam results “continues to drain away”.
“It remains vital that everyone can have confidence in the exams system. At present that isn’t the case. We have asked for robust and fair remarking to help restore trust and will continue to press for that with Ofqual,” the statement said.