MPs have opposed the government’s preferred candidate to become the next Ofsted chief inspector, citing her “troubling” lack of knowledge of children’s social care as a key issue.
The education committee took the unusual step of declaring itself unable to support education secretary Nicky Morgan’s recommendation that Amanda Spielman take on the role.
The committee said Spielman’s evidence at a pre-appointment hearing held last month “did not inspire confidence” that she had sufficient knowledge of the inspectorate’s role in child protection.
In a report published today the committee said it was “deeply troubled” when Spielman, who co-founded the Ark academy schools chain, told MPs “’you cannot say that the buck stops with Ofsted’ on child protection”.
Neil Carmichael, chair of the committee, said: “Ms Spielman has experience of secondary education but she did not persuade that she had a clear understanding of the other aspects of the chief inspector’s role, including early years, primary education, FE, and children’s services.
He added that her responses on child protection were “particularly troubling” and “did not inspire confidence” that she understood the role Ofsted plays in preventing children from being at risk by identifying service failure.
“As a committee, we did not leave the session with the view that Amanda Spielman was prepared for the vast scope and complexity of this important role,” Carmichael said.
Despite the concerns, Nicky Morgan has pledged to carry on with recommending Spielman’s appointment.
In a letter written following the report’s publication, Morgan told the committee that the role did not require expertise on every subject field, and said its concerns about Spielman’s child protection responses were “factually wrong”.
“Amanda was completely right to say that [responsibility for failures in child protection] rests with ‘those who are actually directly responsible for the children day to day in social care’, while also recognising the enormous responsibility of inspecting child protection and other children’s services,” Morgan told the committee.
The committee also criticised a wider lack of expertise on children’s services in senior positions at Ofsted.
“Ofsted’s social care work is currently overshadowed by that on education. In context of recent high profile failures in children’s services over recent years, it deserves a higher profile and is an issue on which strong leadership from Ofsted is needed,” the report said.
As a result of the report’s findings, the committee also recommended splitting Ofsted’s inspection functions, and creating a new inspectorate just for children’s services, something recommended by previous committees.
“In our view, the remit of Ofsted was too large at the time of our predecessors’ report and remains so today,” the committee said.