‘I believe we need to radically improve our education system and that we need to work together to raise expectations, and close the gaps. The prize is worth having: a good or better education for all our young people, with no excuses accepted.’
Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted
This was a quote from Sir Michael Wilshaw’s first major speech as the new Chief Inspector of Ofsted. Speaking at the London Leadership Strategy ‘Good to great’ conference, he set out his ambition that all children will receive a good or better education and the steps Ofsted proposes to drive faster change. Like Marmite, educators are divided over Ofsted and its proposed changes again.
Sir Michael reiterated plans to replace the satisfactory judgement with ‘requires improvement’ and for all school inspections to be undertaken without notice. He also announced a raising of expectations for outstanding schools and a tighter focus on the way in which headteachers are driving the quality of teaching in their schools.
These are very bold and decisive words from the new Chief Inspector of Ofsted. There is a sense of change and a throwing down of the gauntlet to many schools to improve. I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t fully recognise the good work that teachers do in their every day work. We are all trying to develop, improve and make our teaching the best we can. I do think the government, Ofsted and Sir Michael do need to acknowledge that not all teachers and schools are terrible. As teachers we do seem to get a bad press and not enough support from the people who make the decisions at the top. Like praising a student, praising a teacher can work wonders. Teaching is a great profession but we have to careful we do not put too many pressures on our teachers, as we might find people leaving and causing further issues further down the line. We do not want a situation where young graduates don’t choose teaching as a career or leave after two or three years.
However, Sir Michael is right – we do need to raise standards and continue to develop our education system. Changes do need to be made but the right ones. Change for the sake of change is never any good and I do worry that perhaps some institutions will put action plans in place without thinking through the consequences.
Firstly, Sir Michael stated the structure of the school inspection framework will not change. The focus will still be on the four key areas of achievement, teaching, behaviour and safety, and leadership. Ofsted will be doing away with the word ‘satisfactory’. If a school is not yet good, it ‘requires improvement’. So there will now be four judgements – outstanding, good, requires improvement and special measures. This re-grading will focus minds and send a clear and unequivocal message to schools that decisive action is necessary to bring about improvement. Sir Michael’s national ambition should be for all schools to be good or better.
Secondly, Sir Michael stated that a good school should have at least good teaching, and an outstanding school should have outstanding teaching. Good and outstanding leadership of teaching and learning drives improvement and knows that the culture of the school and the progress of pupils depend on it. To me this makes sense as I believe a school should be based on its teaching. According to Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of CIMO in Helsinki and author of Finnish Lessons: what can the world learn about educational change in Finland?, it takes 10 000 hours practice to become a great teacher. This is about 8 to 10 years active service. Consideration must be taking into account for new teachers when inspections are taking place.
Finally, it was mooted that with the National College that ‘outstanding’ headteachers would be part of a Ofsted national service inspecting other schools. Personally, I quite like this idea as I have sometimes felt inspectors can be slightly removed from the classroom if they have not taught for several years. Teaching is a very changeable profession and is very different now to when I started ten years ago for example.
Sir Michael has outlined a very clear plan for the future in teaching. As long as we are all working together and working towards a common goal it could be a success. ‘Radical changes’ and for all schools to be good or better are Sir Michael’s plans – a no excuses culture. Lets hope Sir Michael, Ofsted and the government have thought them all through with teacher input.