Scrapping the ‘outstanding’ grade and inspecting academy trusts: 14 key thoughts from Ofsted’s new chief inspector

Amanda Spielman, ministers’ preferred candidate to take the helm at the schools watchdog, tells MPs she ‘won’t be a crusader’…and she doesn’t think her lack of teaching experience is a problem

Amanda Spielman, the preferred candidate to take the helm at Ofsted, told MPs today that she might scrap the watchdog’s “outstanding” judgement and expand its inspections of multi-academy trusts (MATs). Here are the main points from this morning’s session at the Commons Education Select Committee:

1. She might scrap the “outstanding” grade

Asked what she thought about the Ofsted outstanding judgement, Ms Spielman said: “I’m quite uncomfortable about some of the effects you see it having in the system, I have to say.” Pressed on whether she would scrap the judgement, she said: “It’s something I would like to see fully discussed.”

2. She thinks it is “highly likely” that Ofsted will expand its inspections of MATs

“I can’t imagine it would be possible in a few years’ time to have an inspections system that doesn’t include MATs,” she told MPs. “Over time, I think it is highly likely we will end up with a multi-layered inspections model and for me that would be a good development.”

3. She doesn’t think her lack of teaching experience is a problem

Challenged about her lack of teaching experience, Ms Spielman said: “It’s something that will always be there, that I haven’t been a teacher…I have to make sure the team as a whole does have plenty of experience, I really don’t see that as a real impediment to doing the job.”

Pressed by MPs on how she would build bridges with teachers despite having no teaching experience, she said: “I don’t see it as a problem, I see it as part of making sure the way Ofsted is structured and managed makes sure the right skills are in place.”

4. She only applied for the role after reading in a newspaper that she was a potential candidate

Ms Spielman told MPs she read an article in The Sunday Times that said the next chief inspector could be recruited from America. The article also said her name was in the ring for the post. “I said, it’s absolute nonsense and I’m not thinking about it,” she told MPs. “[In response] a couple of people said, why wasn’t I thinking about it? One said, if you were a man you wouldn’t have thought twice.”

5. She won’t be the nation’s headteacher

“There’s been a clear transition away from telling teachers how to do their job…There’s clear agreement that’s not what’s wanted,” she said.

Ms Spielman said she wanted to make sure that “overall Ofsted adds up to a constructive force for system improvement” but that “it’s not about being a superhead”.

6. She says she’ll stand up to the government

Ms Spielman insisted she had done this at Ofqual, by persuading ministers to rethink plans to have a single exam board and to delay the introduction of GCSE reforms.

7. She’ll have a “different style” to her predecessor

Ms Spielman told MPs she would have a “different style” to the outspoken current chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw. “I have no fear of saying anything,” she said. But, she added: “I do want to make sure it’s absolutely grounded in evidence…I don’t want to get drawn into expressing personal opinions.”

9. She will be led by the evidence

Ms Spielman repeatedly stressed that she would place a great emphasis on evidence about schools’ performance.

Asked whether she agreed with Wilshaw that England’s school system was still “mediocre” she said: “I don’t have access to the full Ofsted evidence base”.

She also stressed she would listen to the profession: “I’ve seen a real trend [towards] using feedback much more, interacting much more directly, being seen to listen, understand and adapt inspection models.”

10. Tackling radicalisation will be a priority

Asked about radicalisation, Ms Spielman said: “It’s clearly a large item of concern on Ofsted’s agenda.” She said Ofsted would want to “play its full part” in tackling this “without creating an impossible burden on schools to police children’s lives at a micro level.”

11. She won’t be a “crusader”

MPs asked Ms Spielman whether she would be a “crusader for high expectations and standards”, Ms Spielman said: “Words like crusader and warrior are ones we need to be careful about because when you start crusading you can slightly lose track of the honesty, integrity that are needed to do this well.

“I see it more about being dogged and relentless in the places where that’s needed and that persistence and determination are the qualities I would want to show… rather than shouting at people.”

12. Ofsted will be careful with exams data

Ms Spielman said major changes were taking place in both primary and secondary testing at the moment. “There’s never been a time when it’s more important to really think about what the data in this transitional period is saying and to make sure it’s used and understood well.”

13. She hasn’t presented ministers with a list of major reforms

Ms Spielman told MPs that during her interviews for the role, “I did not say anything about turning Ofsted into something very different.”

14…And finally: She’s grateful to the TES

During the session Ms Spielman said she was “absolutely delighted” to have been given lots of good advice for the new role, including in an article by Richard Vaughan at the TES. She didn’t say which article she meant, but we think it might have been this one.

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