Gove praises Ofsted head but 'roles need refreshing'

Education Secretary Michael Gove has denied there was a political agenda behind the removal of Baroness Morgan as the head of Ofsted.

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Michael Gove has said outgoing head of Ofsted Baroness Morgan had done a "fantastic" job and denied she was being removed because she was Labour.

The education secretary told the BBC the government believed "from time to time you need to refresh the person in charge... to bring fresh perspective".

Baroness Morgan has claimed to be the victim of a "determined effort from Number 10" to appoint more Tories.

Mr Gove said the decision was entirely his and nothing to do with No 10.

He told the Andrew Marr Show: "I think she's done a really good job. I think that she and the chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw are a fantastic team.

"But one of the things I feel - and across government - is that from time to time you need to refresh the person who is in charge of an organisation."

He said that Baroness Morgan had come to the end of her three-year term as Ofsted chairwoman and it was good corporate practice not to automatically reappoint people - a different person could come in with a "new perspective" and make sure there were "tough questions asked".

Labour candidate

Mr Gove pointed out that he had appointed Baroness Morgan in the first place, knowing she was Labour, adding: "It's also the case that we've recently appointed a former Labour special advisor Simon Stevens to head the NHS. Now when we come to appoint the new head of Ofsted I will appoint, and we will appoint, on merit."

Mr Gove declined to rule out Conservative Party donor Theodore Agnew as a replacement for Baroness Morgan.

He said the appointment would be made on merit and that it would be "quite wrong" to rule out a suitable candidate simply because he was a Conservative.

"I want to make sure that we have the widest range of candidates and I don't think anyone should be ruled out on the basis of their political allegiance.

"If someone is a distinguished former Labour minister and they want to put their hat in the ring, then I would look favourably on that. If there's a distinguished Liberal Democrat educationalist, great. If there's someone who's a Conservative, why should they be ruled out just because they are a Conservative? I think that would be quite wrong."

The Lib Dems have reacted angrily at the decision not to reappoint Baroness Morgan, with new deputy leader, Sir Malcolm Bruce, telling BBC 5live's Pienaar's politics: "They are trying to politicise something that should be kept out of politics.

"It's also a bit odd to my mind that Michael Gove should make this change without consulting or taking into account the views of his schools minister David Laws who after all works very closely with Ofsted.

"I think there's an issue here, a concern that Sally Morgan is going to be replaced with someone who is quite explicitly and ideologically a Tory to deliver inappropriate politics in what is after all an operational body of inspection."

Education Minister David Laws, a coalition loyalist, was said on Saturday to be "furious" saying the decision had "everything to do with Michael Gove's desire to get his own people on board".

'Feminist McCluskey'

The outgoing chairwoman, who was appointed by the coalition in 2010 as chair of the education inspectorate for England, told BBC News on Saturday her removal was part of a pattern which had seen a series of non-Conservative supporters on bodies like the Arts Council and the Charity Commission replaced with loyal Tories.

"I really do think it's just I am the latest of a fairly long list of people now who are non-Conservative supporters who are not being reappointed," she said.

"Often they are people who have been working really well with their organisations and, indeed, with their host departments, so I do think this is coming from Number 10.

Harriet Harman and Michael Gove Harriet Harman and Michael Gove debated their respective parties' record on appointing women to senior roles

"I don't think it is coming from individual departments."

Baroness Morgan's predecessor as Ofsted chairwoman, Zenna Atkins, told the BBC News Channel she did not think her successor had done anything to annoy the Conservatives, so believed it was probably just a desire for a fresh view at the top.

She added that the recruitment rocess for her was "robust" and "fair" and involved head hunters, a series of interviews, including with the permanent secretary at the education department before the final two candidates were interviewed by the secretary of state.

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman told the Andrew Marr Show she was concerned that many of those losing their posts were "senior authoritative women, all being replaced by men".

"It's like it is raining men in the Conservative Party."

Mr Gove responded by pointing out that he had not only appointed Baroness Morgan in the first place, but had also appointed women to other senior positions.

He then hit back by reminding Ms Harman that the Conservatives had had a woman prime minister, and said the Labour Party were dominated by trade unions, such as Unite which he joked was "led by feminist hero Len McCluskey" and Paul Kenny from the GMB "who's been getting in touch with his softer side over the weekend".

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