The difference of opinion between the Secretary of State, a lawyer, and the Chief inspector, a former head teacher, over the inspection of academy chains that was played out in front of the Education Select Committee this morning is interesting. In this case I am on the side of the Secretary of State. The post on this blog of 27th March this year showed that Ofsted inspectors didn’t shy away from the issue when the use of Pupil Premium money was concerned. Indeed, Mr Gove’s answer to the PQ detailed in that blog surely offered support to current the Secretary of State’s view. My reading of the legislation on the functions of the HMCI is that he has the power to enter any location relevant to the powers of inspection and he can be directed by the Secretary of State under her own powers.
A long time ago in the early 1990s, when Ofsted be first formed, the issue arose as to whether HMIs had the power to inspect teacher training in pre-1992 universities that were bodies not under government’s direct control being corporations of one type or another in their own right. The universities lost that battle. Academy chains would lose the same battle in my judgement. If necessary it would only need a short clause inserted in a Bill currently before parliament to make the position absolutely clear. However, it would be a brave academy chain that might stand out against a Secretary of State knowing she believes she has the power to inspect either directly or through an inspection of all or some of the schools within the chain.
As this is the exercise of public money it also raises other interesting questions where functions ancillary to the direct provision of education are concerned. How far does the remit of Ofsted run in this increasingly devolved world of education?
Then there is the issue of diocese and academies. Can Ofsted look at the working of the diocesan office where it is partner in an academy trust in the way that it might not have done in the days when church schools were in the voluntary category? If so, it might wish to start by considering the efficiency of leadership appointments in the schools under the control of the Roman Catholic Church and whether there was any room for improvement in some dioceses through learning from the best practice elsewhere in the country.
No doubt the next issue will be who will inspect the work of the regional school commissioners?
Will they, like the local authorities before them, want their own advisory services to complement the work of Ofsted or will they rely upon a mixture of data provided by schools and inspections by Ofsted for the intelligence about the performance of the schools that are their responsibility. Either way, it seems likely that yet another bureaucracy will be established.
In that respect this government is following the path of its predecessors: cut the number of civil servants when entering office and then find reasons for appointing new ones to support the policies it develops.