Ofsted chief urged to show independence

Lauren Higgs
Monday, October 31, 2011

The man set to become chief inspector at Ofsted has been warned against issuing threats to education and children's services and prove his independence from government.

Wilshaw has a strong track record as a school leader and is known for having a 'tough love' approach. Image: Mossbourne
Wilshaw has a strong track record as a school leader and is known for having a 'tough love' approach. Image: Mossbourne

Education Secretary Michael Gove confirmed last month that Mossbourne Academy head teacher Sir Michael Wilshaw is earmarked for the role, subject to parliamentary approval this week (1 November).

The Education Secretary has made no secret of his admiration for Wilshaw, referring to him as his "hero" and quoting his transformation of the once-failing Hackney Downs School into the successful Mossbourne academy in numerous speeches.

Wilshaw is known for employing a "tough love" approach. He banned hugging at Mossbourne to discourage sexual behaviour and pupils at the school follow strict rules that include no talking in the corridors.

Political links

Philip Parkin, general secretary at education union Voice, said that Wilshaw has a strong track record as a school leader, but warned his links to Gove could undermine him.

"I worry that his appointment will appear far too political because he is clearly the chosen one of Michael Gove," he explained. "If he is seen as Gove’s attack dog from the start, that weakens his position. Until he’s in post and takes some action that is clearly his agenda and not Gove’s, then we’re not going to have confidence that he’s independent."

Parkin argued that Wilshaw should be careful not to use his disciplinary approach to his role at Ofsted. "Wilshaw has been reported as saying that he wants to focus on what he sees as incompetent teachers," Parkin said. "The trouble is that Ofsted has not had the support of the teaching profession for a number of years. The platform set out by Wilshaw so far suggests that he would rather threaten schools than work with them."

Russell Hobby, general secretary at the National Association of Head Teachers, agreed that Wilshaw must support teachers and champion the successes of schools, rather than simply criticise failure.

"Excellence comes from confidence and aspiration, not intimidation," he said. "Ofsted should be about helping schools improve through robust external challenge, and by learning from the best, not creating an atmosphere of threat that prevents risk-taking and creativity."

On the children’s social care side of Wilshaw’s new brief, Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, called on him to work in partnership with professionals and avoid creating "a culture of condemnation". She also insisted he assert his impartiality.

"He does need to demonstrate independence from government because he will have to say things that are unpopular," she said. "He comes with a good track record in turning failing schools around. That may endear him to the education sector, but he’s an unknown quantity to us. If he can translate that into the social care sector, then we would be delighted. We want children’s social care services to be given equal prominence to education."

Mansuri argued that one of Wilshaw’s priorities must be to implement the child-centred approach to social care inspections advocated in the Munro review of child protection.

"He’s coming at a real transition time for children’s social care with Munro," she said. "We need someone who can really usher in the changes in a positive way so that we get a much more qualitative approach to children’s social care inspections that we’ve not had before."

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, urged Wilshaw to take early years inspections as seriously as the other parts of his remit.

Top priorities

"The government is talking about early intervention and early years being high priorities – we’d like to see how that translates into action," she said. "The key thing for us is that he understands the challenges that early years providers are facing. He will need to talk to providers to be exposed to the early years world."

On improving inspections, Tanuku called on Wilshaw to eliminate the disparities between the ways in which different types of early years settings are scrutinised.

"He needs to level the playing field between providers," she said. "That is long overdue in terms of equality for providers and parents. Ofsted needs to set some ground rules so that everyone knows what they are and there is no room for interpretation by local authorities or individual inspectors. Consistency is absolutely key."

On the announcement of his appointment last month, Wilshaw said he was keen to challenge services to provide high quality provision: "I will endeavour not only to provide a commentary on educational standards, but also to challenge the service to provide consistently high quality provision for young people and adults."



Wilshaw is head teacher of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, which replaced Hackney Downs School in 2004. He has been credited with transforming the
fortunes of the once-failing school.

The academy has achieved two consecutive "outstanding" ratings from Ofsted and 82 per cent of pupils gained five good GCSEs including English and maths this year, with 11 students offered places at Oxford or Cambridge.

The government has approved plans for Mossbourne to open a new 800-place academy in Hackney on the site of the former Cardinal Pole Lower School.

He is also director of Ark, which runs nine academies and two free schools. He is expected to take up his role in January.

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