Sir Martyn Oliver sets out his priorities for the Ofsted top job

The academy boss has pledged to run a 'big listen' with the sector and is eyeing allowing HMIs to work in schools and colleges

The academy boss has pledged to run a 'big listen' with the sector and is eyeing allowing HMIs to work in schools and colleges

5 Sep 2023, 13:44

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Sir Martyn Oliver has pledged to undertake a “big listen” and wants to let senior inspectors work in schools and other education providers if he becomes Ofsted chief inspector.

But the Outwood Grange Academies Trust boss has warned that “the last thing the system needs right now … is a revolution”.

Oliver was confirmed as the government’s preferred candidate for the job back in July. If approved, he will begin his initial five-year term on January 1.

It comes against a backdrop of widespread calls for reform of the watchdog, following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

During a pre-appointment hearing led by parliament’s education committee this morning, Oliver summarised his three main ambitions for the role.

“First up is to go through a big listen,” he told MPs, adding in the past Ofsted had faced accusations of being “combative or cold”.

“We need to be empathetic to the challenges that the system is facing. We need to listen to all of the services that Ofsted inspects.”

‘I’ve walked the walk’

He added that his prior experience gave him the empathy needed for the role.

“I think my skillset is that I’ve worked in the most difficult schools, the worst attaining schools, the worst progress schools, some of the worst buildings, some of the greatest challenges in pupil number … schools that no-one wants,” he said.

“So people will know that I’ve got the experience, I’ve walked the walk…There is a series of expertise and experience that I can bring to the system and say, ‘I know what it’s like to do this. I can talk to you with empathy’.”

His second priority is to ensure Ofsted inspections are conducted “by the system”.

“So that’s getting more leaders … I want to make a direct plea to all of the professional bodies, to the trade unions, to the headteachers and leaders in all of the services … and say, how can we involve you in far greater aspect as the Ofsted inspectors and His Majesty’s Inspectors in the future?” he said.

He also suggested Ofsted could find a way to manage “conflicts of interest” to allow HMIs to work in “part time” in other organisations. Currently HMIs are full-time inspectors.

Oliver said some trusts are advertising for former HMIs and “that means often we’re losing all of this talent. Is there a way in which – many institutions are having to look at flexible working – does Ofsted need to embrace that? I think all of these things can be tackled and answered”.

Switch to ‘holistic’ reporting

A third aim, which Oliver said he was “perhaps the most keen on” was to “look holistically” at how disadvantaged children were supported by all services in each local authority area.

“I was delighted that in the pandemic … One of the things which did change is that at last this seeming divide between multi-academy trusts and local authorities really broke down. The information was just flowing one to the other,” he told the committee.

“I think we’ve got to build upon that now and say we need to get all agents, all actors working for all of the children, especially the most vulnerable, so I want to report in a different way as well as give you the sectional headings against those services as they are right now.”

Oliver’s appointment, if ratified, will come at a time of heightened scrutiny for the inspectorate.

In June, months after anger and debate had been levelled at Ofsted for the way in which it conducts inspections, it announced a raft of changes.

This included a committed to review its complaints procedure following a consultation with the sector, which Oliver said he was “delighted” about.

“I’d be really interested to see the outcomes of that consultation…and [if appointed] how then I can take that forward.”

‘Interested in views about single-word judgments’

The announced changes have been criticised by the sector as not going far enough, including the decision to keep single-word judgments in place for inspections.

Oliver said he thought “parents do like the ability to describe their school simply”.

But he added that he was interested in views from parents and children about “how much faith” they “put upon the single-word judgment” as well as alternative ways of reporting outcomes.

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t have that one word, I’m asking what will you do [without it].”

OGAT – which runs 35 schools – is one of the country’s most successful turnaround trusts.

Oliver, who started teaching in 1996, is also a national leader of education and helped found the National Institute of Teaching.

The education committee will now decide whether to give his appointment their backing, but the government can appoint him either way.

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