New head of Ofsted - too close to government?
14 Oct 2011
The new head of Ofsted and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools for England is to be Sir Michael Wilshaw, although he has first to appear before the Parliamentary Select Committee.
Sir Michael Wilshaw has long been the poster-boy of the Schools Secretary, Michael Gove. The latter frequently mentions and quotes the success Sir Michael has had in leading the Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, London. Mind you, Sir Michael - who was knighted in 2000 - was also pretty popular with the last Labour government.
Sir Michael is an enthusiast for academies and is Director of Education at ARK, which runs 9 academies and 2 free schools. Indeed, ARK seems to be taking over the education world: Ofsted's chair, Sally Morgan, has been an advisor to the charity's global board and the Chair of Ofqual, the exams regulator, is the Director of Research and Policy at ARK.
I have met Sir Michael a few times and visited his school some time ago. He is renowned for running a tight ship. He believes in strong discipline and is an enthusiast for strict rules on school uniform. He has had great academic success at Mossbourne, although neighbouring schools have been known to grumble that Mossbourne somehow manages to attract the most motivated pupils with the most supportive parents.
Although he appears to share the educational views of Michael Gove, my impression of him is that he is also strongly independent and confident enough to be his own man. He will need to demonstrate this in the new role if he is to win the trust of schools.
The best Chief Inspectors have been those who are strongly independent of government and the Department of Education in particular. Otherwise there is a risk that Ofsted becomes little more than the policeman of current government policies and minister's favoured methods. Ofsted should not favour one approach over another but should say it as it sees it, observing whether or not schools are doing a good job with whatever methods they themselves have chosen to use.
Sir Michael has suggested to the BBC that he thinks Ofsted has spent too much time focusing on failing schools. This could fit well with current concerns in government that more needs to be done to raise standards in so-called 'coasting' schools.
Roy Blatchford of the National Education Trust would welcome this, saying he hopes Ofsted will ensure that thousands of pupils 'no longer languish in grindingly satisfactory classrooms'.