Don't drop Morgan, said Ofsted boss

Times Series: Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said he was consulted by Education Secretary Michael Gove Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said he was consulted by Education Secretary Michael Gove

The head of Ofsted has revealed he urged Michael Gove not to remove the chair of the school's watchdog from her post, saying she was "very good" at the job.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said he was consulted by the Education Secretary over a wish "to do something about the chairmanship of Ofsted" and told him he wanted Baroness Morgan of Huyton to continue in the role.

Giving evidence to the Commons education select committee today, Sir Michael said he had a "really good relationship" with Lady Morgan.

Mr Gove became embroiled in a row earlier this month after it was revealed that he decided not to reappoint the Labour peer for a second three-year term as Ofsted chair.

He paid glowing tribute to Lady Morgan's ''enormous contribution'' to the work of Ofsted, insisting that the move was to "refresh'' the watchdog's leadership and denying claims that it was politically motivated.

But Mr Gove faced accusations by his Lib Dem colleagues of trying to " politicise'' the schools inspectorate.

The decision was seized on as a fresh attempt to assert his influence over the regulator, with Mr Gove's normally loyal Lib Dem deputy David Laws accusing him of trying to pack the watchdog with his ''own people''.

Asked if he was approached by the Education Secretary for his views on the move, Sir Michael told the cross-party group of MPs: "I was consulted by the Secretary of State on his wish to do something about the chairmanship of Ofsted."

He later said: "I did say to the Secretary of State that I wanted her to continue, that she was a very good chair and my working relationship with her was very strong."

Sir Michael told the committee that during his time as chief inspector he has enjoyed a good relationship with Lady Morgan, particularly when he was first appointed and "various storms broke" around his overhaul of inspections, such as no-notice visits and scrapping the satisfactory rating.

"There was a huge amount of criticism about Ofsted, and particularly about me, and she stood four-square behind me and gave me a huge amount of support and advice.

"She is a very good chair of the Ofsted board and she has their trust."

He added that Lady Morgan was "very knowledgeable about education" and supportive of initiatives such as the academies programme.

Mr Gove has insisted that there is an independent system in place for public appointments.

Speaking on a visit to an east London sixth form last week, he said that an independent body oversees the appointment process, with its recommendation sent to the relevant Secretary of State to approve or veto.

Mr Gove said: "By definition, that independent body will make its recommendation entirely free of any consideration about the political views or background of any candidate.

"So if the right candidate, for any public appointment, happens to be a member of the revolutionary communist party or someone generous enough to support a political party with their hard-earned cash, if they are the right person, then he or she will be appointed and that's the end of it.''

Commissioner for public appointments Sir David Normington said it would be "absurd" for a government to appoint people to public bodies who were opposed to its policies.

He told the Public Administration Select Committee: "There is political choice at the end of the political appointments process and there is the possibility once people have passed the test of merit of a political choice being made.

"There is always the risk that this goes too far but I think it is expecting a lot of a government to appoint somebody to chair a public body who is totally opposed to their policies.

"That would be an absurd position."

He said the political affiliation of appointees "naturally swings around which ever government is in power".

"When there is a Conservative government, people who are Conservative sympathisers are more likely to think about coming into public bodies. Same with a Labour government."

Mr Gove has previously been accused of driving out senior civil servants in the Department for Education by freezing them out.

Sir David told MPs that there were some departments "where there is a level of distrust" but warned that bringing in extra staff to surround the minister would not solve the problem.

"The real answer to getting things done in a department is to call in the permanent secretary and tell them to pull their finger out and get something done.

"Use the management chain, that's the best way to do it. What you shouldn't do is always try to find work arounds. It is absolutely key to get the machine working for you."

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