Relaxing school inspections could undo progress, Wilshaw warns

28 Nov 16

Abandoning routine independent school inspections would jeopardise standards and undo progress, the outgoing head of Ofsted has warned in his farewell speech.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, who has led the education watchdog since 2012, was speaking at the Education Policy Institute last Friday.

“We should never forget that Ofsted’s primary purpose will always be to champion the right of every child to a decent education,” he said.

“We know that parents rely on our findings for reassurance and to help them make choices about where to send their children.”

Known for his sometimes fiery public statements on education issues, Wilshaw described his five-year tenure as “tumultuous… occasionally turbulent, sometimes exhilarating but never dull”.

Wilshaw raised eyebrows in a recent speech that described the government’s decision to rescind the ban on new grammar schools as “tosh and nonsense”. He cited the example of London, where the gap has been narrowing between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils.

In Friday’s speech, he warned of significant challenges facing education in England. Among them, a growing North-South divide that exists over the age of 11, the “plight of our poorer children from White British backgrounds and in our coastal and post-industrial communities”, low level classroom disruption, poor careers advice, and “the parlous state of our post-16 technical and vocational provision.”

Wilshaw also responded to a recent report by the EPI, which has criticised some of Ofsted’s practices. He questioned the validity of the report’s findings, claiming the decision to measure the progress of the inspectorate across a relatively long period from 2005 to 2015 skewed the accuracy of the data. This was because there have been several important changes to the way attainment and progress is measured, made by successive governments, during the period. 

He noted that his decision to scrap the ‘satisfactory’ grade for schools and replace it with ‘requires improvement’ was undoubtedly challenging. However, it was “unquestionably the right step to take because it has ramped up expectations and galvanised many schools to do significantly better.”

Defending Ofsted’s working model, he said: “Inspection is a powerful lever for improvement. Talk to any decent head and they would tell you the same.”

“Every headteacher I have ever met wants to know whether their school is good or not. Every parent I have ever met wants to know whether their child is likely to get a good education at their school or not.”

Neither, he said, were interested in a “woolly narrative”. Instead, “both want certainty and clarity about how the school is doing.”

Wilshaw will be replaced by Amanda Spielman, an appointment for which then education secretary Nicky Morgan received sharp criticism as Spielman has no teaching experience. The Commons education committee subsequently rejected Spielman’s appointment, but was later overruled by Morgan.

Spielman has led regulator Ofqual since 2011 and will take up her new post from 2017.

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