Sarah Bedwell is an Aussie teaching English and other things in the north west of England. She loves using technology in new ways to engage and excite learning, though she does believe in pedagogy before technology. Sarah is currently the ‘Lead Learner for Using New Technologies to Enhance Teaching and Learning’ – otherwise known as an eLearning Coordinator.
When Amanda Spielman was named as the likely new head of Ofsted, there was an outcry from certain parts of the education world. “This woman has no teaching experience!” they cried. “She can’t possibly understand what it’s like! You can’t judge someone if you’ve never walked in their shoes!” and so on, ad infinitum. It’s a tiresome group in the teaching community, I find, who seek to find issue with everything and all. It saddened me that some of the most vitriolic comments came from my union colleagues.
I, for one, was quite pleased with the announcement. The end of Wilshaw’s reign was nigh, and Spielman represented an entirely new regime. The fact that she is associated with an academy chain, and that her background includes (but, crucially, is not limited to) banking, to me is far from problematic. She would not, after all, be doing inspections of schools herself. The role involves policy and administrative work, not actual inspections. Those are left to the people who actually do know more about teaching. Having said that, with an MA from the Institute of Education, there’s an argument to be made that she also had the chops for inspections.
This ‘but she’s never taught before’ argument also spectacularly contradicts what we teach our students: that skills are transferrable. Nobody was asking her to walk into a classroom and suddenly pick up a green pen and go for it. She was being asked to use her vast management experience, as well as her experience in managing Ofqual, to help steer the direction that Ofsted would take. It’s rather naive to think that she’d be doing this on her own – did anybody really think she’d be an independent Chair, free to make her own decisions about how Ofsted would inspect and what their ideology would be?
In my opinion the harsh opposition to her appointment could actually backfire spectacularly. The interviews I’d seen with her between the announcement and today show that she was perhaps more willing to listen to what teachers are saying and to take on board the genuine concerns that are raised. It’s hard to see that there was any response to teachers from Wilshaw, and that concerns simply fell on deaf ears. Spielman had committed to ensuring that her team had the necessary experience and to things like increasing inspection of MATs. I fail to see why these are bad things.
Opposing Ofsted as a whole is one thing. The pressure and scrutiny that come with such inspections can absolutely do more harm than good. But this opposition wasn’t against Ofsted, it was against a potential administrative head of the organisation, someone with an appropriate background in running such an organisation, having been Chair of Ofqual previously. I can’t help but feel that those who launched their attacks have simply shot themselves in the foot – who knows who we’ll end up with now, and what kind of ideological approach they’ll take? If the Education Select Committee have perhaps rejected the selection on the basis that she’s moderate, are we in for a harsher reincarnation of Wilshaw?
Amanda Spielman struck me as someone who we could work with. Sure, at the end of the day she’d do what she felt was appropriate, whether or not teachers or the unions agreed with her. We’ve certainly seen that before. But I really did feel like there was an opportunity to rebuild trust between the profession and the administration, and that that opportunity has now been lost. It worries me that the culture of the minority, that need to drag down anybody appointed into such a role, will end up having a negative impact on us all.