Academy chief's move to Ofsted sparks "conflict of interest" fears

01 August 2014 -


Regulator’s appointment of David Hoare, who runs one of the largest academy chains in the UK, has led to questions over his impartiality

Jermaine Haughton

Ofsted’s move to hire an executive of a struggling chain of academies as its new chairman could pose a conflict of interest, according to the National Union of Teachers (NUT). The trade union has been highly critical of the government’s academies programme – which aims to strip schools away from local-authority control and influence – and suggests that the regulator’s appointment of AET Trustee David Hoare will ring further changes to the schools system as desired by the Coalition.

Urging the privately-educated Hoare to show impartiality as Ofsted chief, NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Teachers will view [this] appointment as further evidence of the government’s politicisation of school inspection. This could further widen the credibility gap between Ofsted and schools, and the new Chair will need to demonstrate his competence to chair the school inspectorate in an impartial manner with regard to all academy and community schools.

Courtney added: “Academy status is no panacea. It is essential that Ofsted distances itself from the pressure to force schools to become academies against their will.” The NUT executive also stressed that Hoare would need to work together with local authorities and teachers to improve school standards. “It’s time for a rethink on school-support services” Courtney said. “We need a bigger role for local authorities and a move away from punitive, centralised, data-driven judgements on teaching and learning. David Hoare should make this a priority.”

However, Hoare’s credentials as the appropriate leader of the nation’s schools regulator have also been questioned in view of the poor past performances of some schools he has overseen. In fact, at the very point that Hoare will leave his AET role in September to take up his new post, Ofsted is set to publish a report reviewing the chain’s schools in the wake of summer inspections. A poor report for AET is at the very least going to prove embarrassing for Hoare – particularly after the Department for Education said last year it was “concerned” about the group’s performance, and that some of its schools were “not making the necessary improvements”.

With his hands already full trying to negotiate political debates about the future of British schooling, Hoare’s capabilities will immediately come under scrutiny as he steps up to succeed Baroness Sally Morgan, who has been Chair since 2011.

Educated at the pricey Marlborough school before becoming a successful turnaround specialist, Hoare has been urged by Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) general secretary Mary Bousted to treat schools with care and thorough consideration. “David Hoare has already shown a positive interest in the development of children through his recent work,” she said. “He quickly needs to address the pressure placed on teachers by the current Ofsted regime, which is in disarray with questionable quality-control processes. He also needs to remember that schools are not businesses, and shouldn’t become businesses.”

The criticism of Hoare’s appointment – barely a day after the announcement – highlights some of the difficulties that regulators and governing bodies have in hiring the most experienced and skilled leaders to provide effective governance. Ironically, Hoare won the post of Ofsted chief after another contender was overlooked following accusations of conflicts of interest. Carphone Warehouse co-founder David Ross was forced out of the running in the wake of Lib Dem objections, because he had donated about £220,000 to the Conservative Party before Michael Gove was demoted to Chief Whip in last month’s reshuffle.

Indeed, the issue of impartiality in governance has been a hot topic in the past few weeks, particularly in the legal sphere.  Most notably, Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss resigned as the chairman of a government-ordered inquiry into allegations of child abuse involving senior public figures in the 1980s, following controversy over the fact that her brother – the late Sir Michael Havers – served as Attorney General from 1979 to 1987. That led to widespread calls for her to stand down, as she would have had to investigate whether Sir Michael had failed to act on allegations of child abuse against senior establishment figures.

Baroness Butler-Sloss said it had become apparent that there was a “perception, particularly among victim and survivor groups, that I am not the right person to chair the inquiry … It has also become clear to me that I did not sufficiently consider whether my background and the fact my brother had been Attorney General would cause difficulties.”

Download David Hoare’s leadership CV from the website of Talisman Management.

Read this CMI blog about “congnitive bias” in management and leadership.

Classroom image courtesy of Cornfield / Shutterstock

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