Chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw urged Michael Gove not to remove Baroness Sally Morgan from her post as chair of education standards watchdog Ofsted, it emerged on Wednesday.
Sir Michael told MPs the Education Secretary consulted him before making the decision. He added: “I did say to the Secretary of State that I wanted her to continue in post. She has been a very good chair and we had a very good working relationship.”
Questioned by MPs on the Education Select Committee about her dismissal – which caused outrage among Liberal Democrats, who claimed that Mr Gove was trying to “politicise” the job – he added: “I’ve enjoyed two years of a really good relationship with Sally Morgan, particularly when I was first appointed and there were firestorms directed around me.”
Sir Michael has caused controversy among teachers by removing the “satisfactory” grading for schools from the Ofsted structure and replacing it with “requires improvement”. He has also angered them by introducing “no notice” inspections.
“There was a huge amount of criticism about Ofsted and particularly about me, and she stood four-square by me and gave me a huge amount of support and advice,” he said. “She was a very good chair of the Ofsted board and she had their trust and confidence.”
He acknowledged that “in retrospect” he could have been wrong to air his grievances about Mr Gove’s department briefing against him, when two think-tanks were reported to be drawing up highly critical reports on Ofsted. Civitas and Policy Exchange are both close to Mr Gove.
He said he had been angered by their suggestion that Ofsted was “mired” in the ideals of the 1960s, which he described as “an absolute outrage”. “That was why I was so angry,” he added. “I was angry, and so were my HMI inspectors for being put in the category of soft, woolly inspectors.”
Asked if he had overstepped the mark with his outburst, he said: “In retrospect, I probably did – but it was a spontaneous act of fury.”
He said he had later received assurances after seeking a meeting with Mr Gove that no briefing against him had taken place and that “there was no dirty tricks campaign or anything like that, and that he [Mr Gove] would take direct action with anyone who was involved in that”. Sir Michael added: “He is an honourable man and I accepted his word.”
He later continued to praise Mr Gove, saying: “I enjoy a really good relationship with the Secretary of State. I admire him as a reforming Secretary of State. He has been passionate about improving standards in schools across the country.”
But he admitted that the pair often had “robust conversations” and that “I would gladly walk off into the sunset if it’s the desire of all those with power that I should do so.”
In a wide-ranging session covering Ofsted’s annual report, Sir Michael also criticised the Government’s move to get all pupils who fail to get a C grade in maths and English at GCSE to continue resitting the exams.
Asked by Graham Stuart, the Conservative chairman of the committee, whether that was like “flogging a dead horse”, he replied: “That would be my concern. Expecting all of these youngsters to achieve a C grade at GCSE in English and maths at 18 is probably a challenge too far.”
Sir Michael also called for Ofsted to be given powers to inspect academy chains, arguing such a move would be “only fair”. However, he signalled that he had found an ingenious way around his lack of powers by ordering the inspection of all the schools in one academy chain, E-ACT. The results will be published in a few weeks.