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Michael Gove ‘considered sacking’ outspoken Ofsted boss Wilshaw

Michael Gove ‘considered sacking’ outspoken Ofsted boss Wilshaw

🕔10.Oct 2014

Former Education Secretary Michael Grove considered sacking outspoken Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw after he became disillusioned with his performance, it is claimed today.

A leaked internal Whitehall memorandum describes how Mr Gove, senior officials and Department for Education board members discussed the “serious and growing problem” of Ofsted as run by Mr Wilshaw.

The memo was circulated in October last year and written by Mr Gove’s then special adviser Dominic Cummings, according to a report in The Guardian newspaper.

In the memo Mr Cummings says that he, schools minister Lord Nash and DfE board member Theo Agnew were “increasingly alarmed” about Ofsted and Mr Wilshaw’s managerial abilities.

“Despite constant pressure from us and constant assurances, there is no evidence that [Wilshaw] is substantially changing the organisation – and considerable evidence from a constant flow of blogs and emails that problems are either the same or getting worse,” Mr Cummings added.

“It seems he cannot break the cycle of speeches and media attention – this cycle continues regardless of however many times he is asked to focus,” Mr Cummings wrote, concluding: “It is worth thinking about the whole Ofsted approach with a blank sheet of paper.”

The memo, which can be seen here in full, gave this account of Ofsted’s problems: “They have missed massive child abuse scandals under their noses, which they are very lucky not to have been hammered for. They are easy to con into giving inflated judgements.

“There has been an abyss between stated goals and practice and the actual behaviour of their inspectors. Wilshaw himself admitted when he took over that ‘about a fifth’ of his inspectors are ‘no good’. There is no evidence this has changed substantially.”

The criticism of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s apparent liking for media attention will have particular resonance in Birmingham, where the Ofsted chief inspector has savaged the city council.

A week before Mr Cummings drew up the memo last October, Sir Michael launched an unprecedented salvo against Birmingham’s children’s social services which he described as a “national disgrace”.

He went on to state that Birmingham was one of the worst places in the developed world to bring up children. The ferocity of his attack shocked leaders of all political parties on the city council and were widely seen as unfair.

Three months later, Sir Michael was at the centre of an Ofsted investigation into the Trojan Horse affair. He ordered snap inspections at 21 Birmingham schools where it was alleged hardline Muslim governors were imposing ultra-conservative Islamic values on children.

Sir Michael said head teachers had told Ofsted they believed there was an “orchestrated” plan and a deliberate “strategy”.

“People had got together and decided which schools to target,” said Sir Michael.

He said that as an ex-head teacher he had been “distressed” by the bullying of staff by governors.

Some staff were so frightened that evidence had to be given to inspectors in a supermarket car park, he stated in a report to the Government.

Whitehall sources confirm that the memo – circulated to DfE permanent secretary Chris Wormald and other senior officials – was followed by a series of meetings involving Gove that resulted in growing pressure on Wilshaw to refocus the role of Ofsted and growing frustration when he resisted efforts to reform it and maintain budget discipline.

A source close to the DfE told The Guardian: “By summer 2014 there were serious discussions at the top of Whitehall about replacing Wilshaw. However, this talk all ended when Gove was fired. Senior officials are terrified that Mr Wilshaw will blow up before the election.”

Mr Gove was replaced by Nicky Morgan in the cabinet reshuffle in July.

A DfE spokesman said the department did not comment on leaked documents but added: “Sir Michael Wilshaw and Ofsted are doing a very important job, including critical work around child protection. The secretary of state has a constructive working relationship with Sir Michael Wilshaw.”

Ofsted declined to comment.

Cummings, who confirmed the memo was genuine, said: “Ofsted has huge problems and Wilshaw does not have the necessary skills. He could not accept that his focus on media interviews rather than internal reform was a disaster and he would not hire someone to do the reforms that he could not do himself.

“Whitehall is focused on propping him up, not addressing the system problems, because it is too uncomfortable to face the reality of bureaucratic failure. Meanwhile the unions simply want less pressure and the parties want to suck up to Wilshaw for the election.”

Yesterday, Mr Wilshaw revealed that Ofsted would not now be implementing mandatory no-notice inspections of schools, following a brief trial of the policy last month.

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