Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove’s former special adviser, attacked the head of Ofsted, describing Sir Michael Wilshaw’s appointment as “the second worst personnel decision we made”.
In a series of Twitter posts, he accused him of being “dishonest” and “out of his depth”. Sir Michael, a former head teacher who was appointed chief inspector of schools in 2012, had “lost the plot” and “should be ashamed of himself”, he said.
The former special adviser’s comments came after a leaked Department for Education (DfE) memo revealed that high-level discussions had been held about the “serious and growing problem” of Ofsted and Sir Michael’s management abilities last year.
The email, entitled “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” or “Who watches the watchmen?” was sent by Mr Cummings in October last year, when he was special adviser to the former education secretary Michael Gove.
It warned that Mr Cummings, the schools minister Lord Nash and DfE board member Theo Agnew were “increasingly alarmed” about Sir Michael’s management of the inspectorate.
The memo was sent to the Permanent Secretary at the DfE Chris Wormald and other senior officials and was followed by a serious of meetings involving Mr Gove in order to put pressure on Sir Michael to reform Ofsted.
Sir Michael hit back at the criticism with a statement insisting that he had not taken the job to “curry favour” with ministers and would not allow the schools watchdog to be politicised.
He insisted he would not be deterred from “shining a light” on underperformance in any type of school, including academy chains and free schools as well as local council-run schools.
“The document … comes as no surprise to me,” he said. “Indeed, I raised my concerns publicly about plots and smear campaigns against Ofsted and me personally by political advisers back in January. I am in good company. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have also come under fire from one particular former adviser to Michael Gove.
“I didn’t come into this role to curry favour with vested interests. I took on this job with one single ambition: to improve the life chances of all children in this country.
“I will not allow Ofsted to be politicised and I will not be swayed from making the difficult decisions that are sometimes necessary to raise standards in our country. Nor will I be deterred from shining a spotlight on poor performance, whether in academy chains, free schools or local authority schools, no matter how uncomfortable this may be for some people.”
But the statement prompted fresh criticism from Mr Cummings who called on Twitter for Ofsted to be shut down. He wrote: “Wilshaw needs to realise the issue is not about his motives. It’s about his organisation/management/schools/children.
“Ofsted needs to be closed and new inspectorate created... Wilshaw’s implication that we pressured him to go easy on bad free schools is thoroughly dishonest.”