The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, is under pressure to refocus the work of the schools inspectorate from the quality of teaching in the classroom to the standards of school governance as part of a wider rethink about its role.
Wilshaw is likely to face resistance from the Department for Education to his proposals, made on Monday, to review the accountability of free schools or academies, or to make the national curriculum the focus of teaching.
The signs of continuing tension between Michael Gove and Wilshaw came after the Ofsted chief backtracked on potentially damaging claims that Gove had blocked him from introducing no-notice inspections in 2012.
Instant inspections might have revealed that some schools in Birmingham were being run by school governors apparently willing to impose a narrow form of Muslim education in secular schools.
Ofsted on Monday put five Birmingham schools into special measures and some of them are now likely to be taken over by other local academies.
In remarks later withdrawn, Wilshaw told BBC2′s Newsnight on Monday he had a “robust discussion” with Gove about no-notice inspections when he took over the schools inspectorate in 2012 and said he was “really pleased that minds have been changed”.
The DfE said yesterday Wilshaw had agreed the decision to shelve the plans was not made due to DfE pressure.
It said Gove and Wilshaw “have today discussed the issue of no-notice inspections. The chief inspector confirmed that the education secretary did not ask Ofsted to halt its plans for no-notice inspections in 2012. Ofsted took the decision after considering the response to their consultation”.
In a further statement issued simultaneously, Wilshaw confirmed he had made the decision “as a result of representations I received from headteachers and others during the consultation. I decided to move instead from two days’ notice to much shorter half-day notice inspections from September 2012. I recognise that the secretary of state’s commitment to this principle is also longstanding.”
It was said that Wilshaw at the time felt he could not fight on too many fronts at once.
The spat between Gove and Wilshaw at a time of tension in education has irritated No 10, which would like to see Gove making fewer enemies. It has reignited rumours that the restless Gove will be moved in a summer reshuffle, something he would resist.
Gove regards no-notice inspections as critical to improving education in schools, and sees it as part of a shift to an inspection that better examines school governance. The minimum notice for inspection is 12 hours and, even with this brevity, Gove fears headteachers can ship out disruptive children, giving a false impression of discipline.
Frustrations with Ofsted shared by Gove’s advisers have been reflected by a series of right of centre thinktanks saying the time Ofsted inspectors spend assessing classroom performance of teachers is inordinate and the key added value of Ofsted is to police leadership and governance in a school.
Some of Gove’s advisers regard Ofsted as in need of being reengineered from the bottom up, and see a recent decision to bring all of its inspections back in-house as the start of a reform.
Gove will also reject calls repeated by Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, for academies and free schools to be obliged to teach from the national curriculum.
Wilshaw had come close to supporting this proposal, recommending on Monday that the government should provide much greater clarity to all schools – including academies and free schools – on what should be taught in a broad and balanced curriculum.
David Cameron, speaking in Sweden, focused on his plans to require all schools to promote British values, saying they will have the “overwhelming support” of everyone in the UK. When asked to define British values, Cameron said: “I would say , which he said were “freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions– those are the sorts of things that I would hope would be inculcated into the curriculum in any school in Britain whether it was a private school, state school, faith-based school, free school, academy or anything else.”
Gove, in 2007, responding to Gordon Brown’s debate about Britishness said: “There is something rather unBritish about seeking to define Britishness. It’s a quality which is best demonstrated through actionb rather than described in the abstract.”
There are also doubts about whether the proposal will end in a series of judicial reviews or conflicts about what values teachers will be required to promote.