Don’t put it past Gove –the founder of Carphone Warehouse really could be the next chair of Ofsted

The Tory donor has his own academy chain and a financial interest in selling technology to schools: what could possibly go wrong?

The Tory donor has his own academy chain and a financial interest in selling technology to schools: what could possibly go wrong?

Last week, the Independent reported that David Ross, co-founder of Carphone Warehouse, is in the running to become the next chair of Ofsted. This is a man who has never been a teacher, has never led a school and has no experience of carrying out school inspections.

He has, however, donated hundreds of thousands to the Conservative Party.

He also, via The David Ross Education Trust, runs a chain of 25 academy schools and is applying to open two new free schools. Eleven of these schools have been inspected since coming under his trust’s control and they haven’t done so well: four were deemed to require improvement and only two have improved, so we can see why he might like to have some influence over the body that delivers these judgements.

You might think that even Michael Gove wouldn’t make such an outrageously partisan and inappropriate appointment, but he has form. The current education minister with responsibility for the academies programme is unelected venture capitalist John Nash. Like David Ross, Nash has given significant sums to the Tory Party. He also runs his own academy sponsor, Future.

In 2013, Nash was given a peerage and then made parliamentary under secretary of state for schools.

Numerous conflicts of interest would arise if Ross were appointed chair of Ofsted. The first is obvious: Ross would chair the body which would inspect the schools in his own academy chain. But there is another, arguably more worrying, potential conflict and that relates to the increased use of new media and technology in schools.

A big issue for the teaching profession at the moment is how to use new technology, such as tablets, in the classroom. These can be put to very good and very bad use, as well as everything in between, not least because this is a new challenge for everyone with no body of established good practice. Part of the role of an Ofsted inspector is to judge teaching methods – this will increasingly involve assessing the use of technology in schools.

So what has all this to do with David Ross? Ross is still a major shareholder in Carphone Warehouse, owning almost 10% of the company. Carphone Warehouse is a supplier of tablets and recently commissioned ‘research’ into the use of tablets in teaching; this concluded that “tablets brought numerous benefits to the classroom.”

Carphone Warehouse then convinced Michael Gove to endorse the company’s ‘Tablets for Schools’ scheme.

The scheme, which is currently a ‘not-for profit’ initiative led by Carphone Warehouse, involves the rolling out of tablets to schools to enable 1:1 tablet learning. As the company’s website says in its corporate responsibility section:

“Our mission is to transform the way children learn by providing evidence of the impact of Tablets on learning and sharing best practice. Introducing Tablets into a school, can be a minefield in terms of knowing what Wifi, financing, and insurance to adopt and selecting suitable content, before schools even start to think about how teaching and learning might change.”

So Carphone Warehouse has kindly offered to work with DfE officials in providing thousands of Google Nexus 7 devices – kindly donated by Google (all this corporate kindness!) – to schools in a pilot scheme with the aim of then rolling it out nationally. The point of the scheme, says Carphone Warehouse, is to:

“inspire schools, teachers and parents and provide a blueprint for them to adopt tablet technology; to help them change the way they teach and significantly improve children’s engagement and attainment.”

Purely coincidentally, this will provide Carphone Warehouse with a significant commercial advantage if and when tablets become a normal part of teaching. The Tablets for School programme has given the company a foothold in the education market as schools will now become familiar with Carphone Warehouse’s products and service.

The Tablets for Schools website provides a summary of the areas in which the programme can provide advice and support: choosing and financing a tablet, technical support, internet connectivity and pedagogy to name just a few.

Helpfully, under the financing a tablet section, we’re told that “The Department for Education recommends that schools spend 3 per cent of their budget on ICT procurement. Simon Thomas of 9ine Consulting estimates that schools currently spend about 1 per cent on average.”

Unless he sells his shares, David Ross can’t impartially chair an organisation that is meant to assess and critique teaching and learning when so much debate and development in this field over the next few years will relate to how and when technology should be used in the classroom– and when it shouldn’t be used.

Finally, appointing a Tory donor who runs an academy chain to chair Ofsted will undermine the organisation to the point of discrediting it, not least because Ofsted judgements very often form the basis of forced academisation. An inadequate judgement is often quickly followed by the arrival of DfE officials who replace the school’s governors and force through an academy order.

This has already caused significant damage in relations between the DfE on one hand and teachers and parents on the other. In this context appointing Ross would be nothing less than an act of deliberate provocation and I fear the consequences.

Annie Powell is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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12 Responses to “Don’t put it past Gove –the founder of Carphone Warehouse really could be the next chair of Ofsted”

  1. bjsalba

    Presumably we would have OFSTED too as the Scotsman headline said: Gordon Brown: Scots want ‘UK-wide
    school system’

  2. ray odonnell

    Surely a minimum standard for this post is an impeccable moral background. Shares scandal, prostitute story, Cosalt plc (as reported in Private Eye mag). Do we really want this man to have responsibility for our children’s education! The selection process needs fixing, or is it already fixed. astonished…imo.

  3. RoyB

    I suppose the upside might be that such an appointment could be the final nail in the coffin of this deplorable outfit.

  4. Robin Thorpe

    Spot on article, the Guardian ran an article a couple of days ago with nowhere near this amount of detail. The mainstream media should be covering this with a far louder voice.

    Also, how bad is the grammar in the Carphone Warehouse blurb?

  5. brossen99

    Explains 2008 Climate Change Act and how green taxes and Wall St pressure for big profits shut our US owned main aluminium smelters we need to build war planes ?

    Knew RN safe main target merchant ships ?

  6. swatnan

    Like making Mick Jagger Master of the Queens Music.

  7. billbradbury

    I am never surprised by what Gove will do or does next.Lunatics and Asylum come to mind. I have little faith in Ofsted anyway-no matter how Wilshaw protests it is currently the political arm of this Government pulling in as many State Schools into the Academy system by failing them. With Gove currently closing down much of the DfE it will leave all these technically independent schools to their own devices. No wonder teachers are striking with more misery to come.

  8. Annie Powell

    Nope. Harrison (CEO Carphone Warehouse) doesn’t want to rush the roll-out of tablets and risk that roll-out being unsuccessful. Read the TES article in full – he’s still involved in the scheme and wants to see the roll-out soon, maybe in the next parliament:

    “Andrew Harrison, chief executive of the high street chain, made the startling claim in an interview with TES, arguing that students would be “distracted” and teachers underprepared if the gadgets were rolled out on a large-scale basis now. Bungled wholesale introductions of tablet computers to schools in the US should serve as a warning to Britain, he added.

    However, Mr Harrison insisted that the government would be forced to look at introducing tablets across the board, “possibly during the next parliament”

    It’s not good for his business if roll-out is bungled, is it?!

  9. Guest

    What a surprise, trying to link the left with your Dear Leader.

  10. French teacher

    Thing is Annie, its easy to be cynical when corporates get involved in charitable work. But did you ever consider that when successful business leaders put their minds to social issues, just maybe they have something positive to say and contribute? Its easy to sit on the sidelines and carp. I’m a socialist but I’d rather hear a successful business persons’ take on creating a workforce that makes people employable than some rely on an educational purist utopia that does not exist. In the school where I teach in Islington (inner city state comp) the businesses that have paid for our tennis courts, and our interactive whiteboards are to be praised not attached. If it was not for their charity, the kids I teach would not benefit from these facilities. And for info, I have found teaching with tablets (also donated by an IT business) to have transformed the way I teach French – I cannot wait to see the results from my GCSE kids at the end of the Summer.

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