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Ofsted’s new supremo sets out her vision

18 Aug

At the last Festival of Education conference in late June 2017, which was held in Wellington College, Berkshire, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), Mrs Amanda Spielman, stressed how important it was for every school/academy to review the curriculum it is offering the pupils and for governors/trustees to recognise the importance of “leadership challenges and valuing management”.   She added that she would “use Ofsted’s powers responsibly and intelligently”, not only in her personal approach, but also “in the whole way Ofsted inspects and regulates”.

She set out her philosophy on education and its delivery and her vision for the future in leading Ofsted and presented her programme of action.   She acknowledged the successes of her predecessors, accepted the challenge that Ofsted faced in recognising the daunting task of schools in socially deprived areas and stressed the importance of excellent school/academy management – not just in “inspirational leadership”.

I        HMCI’s Objectives for Ofsted

She described three areas in which she would act.

(1)        First, she said that she would ensure that her inspectors provide fair, valid and reliable judgements about the performance of individual institutions.

(2)        She remarked that Ofsted was in a unique position in that it had evidence “from thousands of individual inspections on the ground as well as a bird’s eye view of the entire system”.   In the light of this, she said that the inspectorate would aggregate insights, triangulate findings with existing research and evidence and produce robust analyses of what was working well, both, at national level and individual school/academy practice.

(3)        Mrs Spielman added that she would “capitalise” on the information out there about the effect that Ofsted had on the sectors it inspects. Accordingly, she was keen to seek out the views of parents, teachers, governors, the government and all other users of inspection outcomes and Ofsted’s reports – the aim being to improve the work of Ofsted and  the quality of education offered in schools/academies.

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Ofsted Annual Report 2015/16

1 Jan


Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), published his fifth and final Ofsted annual report on the education system in England on Thursday, 1 December 2016.  He retired 30 days later.  In presenting the report, Sir Michael said “a world class education system is within our grasp – but only if serious capacity challenges are urgently addressed”.

Sir Michael stressed that a north/south ‘geographical divide’ meant the ablest pupils in the North and Midlands were less likely to reach A/A* at GCSE. He said: “Standards can only truly be considered high if they are high in every part of the country and for all pupils regardless of background or ability.”

However, his report is, in the main, positive.    The country’s schools/academies, he avers, had made progress over the last five years. Educators could be justly proud.  “Young people are getting a better deal than ever before,” he said.  School/academy leaders responded well to the changes in the system.  The decision to replace the “satisfactory” judgement with “requires improvement” led to schools/academies upping their game, making a greater effort ensuring that pupils are offered the very best possible education.     Of the former 4,800 satisfactory primary schools/academies, 79% were now good or outstanding and, of the previous satisfactory secondary ones, 56% were good or better.

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Safeguarding threatened in privatised system

1 Jan

I        Ofsted inspection focus

When Ofsted inspects a school/academy, the inspectors tend to focus on three issues – pupil progress (and achievement), the impact on children’s progress and achievement of measures taken to assist those on free school meals (FSM) with the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG) and Safeguarding. We tend to view pupil progress in narrow terms – i.e. the distance covered by youngsters in English and mathematics – instead of their overall development.  Many inspectors, sadly, do the same.

However, it is always useful for governors and school staff to draw inspectors’ attention to the ground made by shy pupils who become confident, ill-behaved children who become polite, civil and helpful to others, youngsters who constantly need help and guidance who become independent learners, self-centred young people who learn to collaborate and work co-operatively and, of course, the strides made by classes of children in all the other subjects such as science, geography, history, modern languages, design/technology, art and music, among other disciplines.

While the focus must not be constrained to any one group of pupils, the government, rightly, wants to ensure that the resources it is forking out for pupils entitled to FSMs through the PPG is used well. Inspectors expend much energy ensuring that this duty is discharged properly.

However, it is impossible for children – whatever their economic condition – to make progress if they do not feel safe and are happy.   Consequently, Safeguarding is the third issue which inspectors view under the microscope.

Where it is in peril, Local Authorities (LAs) have a responsibility for taking measures to redress the balance.   However, in an environment where LAs have lost considerable powers and resources, safeguarding Safeguarding has become increasing difficult and daunting.  The problems are being exacerbated by the “privatising” of education through an increasing number of schools (now well over 5,000) having become academies.  At least this is the view of the former Chief Inspector, Michael Tomlinson, who, until recently, was Birmingham’s Education Commissioner.

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Amanda Spielman, appointed Chief Inspector-Designate

28 Aug

I           Changing of the Guard at Ofsted: Sir Michael Wilshaw to retire

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) of Schools, appointed almost five years ago by Michael Gove (remember how he described Sir Michael as “My hero”?), former Education Secretary and Lord Chancellor, is due to retire on 31 December 2016. While it is tempting to disparage Sir Michael, because he is not the easiest of people with whom to share a pint in a pub, he has done much to improve the quality of education in England.

Sir Michael came with an impressive pedigree.  The son of a postman, he became Headteacher of St Bonaventure’s (Boys’) Catholic School at the age of 39.  He was knighted, while Headteacher of that school, in 2000.   In 2003, he was appointed Executive Principal of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney – which was in a very socially deprived area. Students severely underachieved. During his tenure, he raised standards.  Many youngsters did very well, moving on to prestigious universities, including Oxbridge, to pursue their studies.

When Christine Gilbert’s tenure ended in December 2011, Sir Michael was appointed Ofsted’s supremo, a position he took up in January 2012.  During his time as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), he got rid of 40% of school inspectors, ended outsourcing inspection to contractors – bringing the arrangements in-house by recruiting a whole cadre of headteachers and other school leaders – and replaced the “Satisfactory” grade for schools with “Requires Improvement”.

He kept his focus on the central purpose of his work – i.e. the pupils.  “As important as the reorganisation of Ofsted was,” he said, “being Chief Inspector was not and has never been a purely bureaucratic position. We are charged with holding schools to account and improving the lives of our youngest citizens, especially the poorest.  And to get things done, it is sometimes necessary to challenge, to take risks”  In other words, he was making the point that to cook a tasty omelette, he had to crack a number of eggs and some eggheads.

In the process of establishing his fierce independence, he alienated ministers and civil servants, especially when he made the point that he was not answerable to them but to Parliament.   Not so long ago, he fell ill and had to have a heart operation from which he has recovered.   He deserves a healthy, happy and long retirement when he hands over the reins of office on 31 December 2016.

II          Nicky Morgan appoints Amanda Spielman

One of the last acts of former Education Secretary of State, Ms Nicky Morgan, was (on 7 July 2016) to appoint Amanda Spielman, to follow Sir Michael.   This was despite the House of Commons Education Select Committee overwhelmingly rejecting her (Mrs Spielman) as it was left “unconvinced” by her suitability. The members of the Committee questioned whether she was the right person for the top Ofsted job.

Fifty-five-year-old Mrs Spielman is currently chair of the exams regulator, Ofqual.   She saw off a strong field of candidates including the chief executive of the Ormiston Academies Trust, Toby Salt, and the general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, Russell Hobby.  Continue reading

Chief Inspector to turn his sights on school governance in 2016

5 Jan

I           Sir Michael Wilshaw’s thoughts on school/academy governance

In a commentary he published on 19 November 2015, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), Sir Michael Wilshaw, said that he would be turning his attention to school governance, similar to the study he did of primary schools in October 2015.

He paid tribute to the overwhelming majority of governors who do wonderful work in very difficult circumstances, stating: “There are thousands of people across the country, who give up their time to serve on governing boards. We know that the majority take their duties very seriously and act responsibly and in the interests of the whole-school community.

“Inspectors find that in many schools, governors and trustees are making an important contribution to raising standards and lifting aspiration. The best of these champion the school in the local community and take great pride in the success of their pupils.”

However, these welcome words appear only after, in his usual “headmasterly” way, he sets out what governors are supposed to do and chastising the few who fail to do so.

By way of preamble, he trots out the obvious. “The …… increasingly autonomous education system over the past five years, including the rapid growth of academies and free schools, has placed more power into the hands of governing boards than ever before,” he remarks.

He reminds governors and trustees that they have responsibility for setting out their schools’ and academies’ visions, ethos and strategic direction.  No surprise there.

He adds that governors “have to be perceptive people who can challenge and support” their headteachers/principals “in equal measure and know when and how to do this”, warning them that they should not overstep the mark by trying to run their schools/academies by themselves.   The Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association (NGA) had already put this strategy pithily by exhorting governors and trustees to operate in an “Eyes on, hands off” manner.  Continue reading

Sir Michael Wilshaw laments North-South divide in educational quality and deems that academisation is not the panacea for poor pupil outcomes

5 Jan

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) of Schools in England, Sir Michael Wilshaw, issued his fourth annual report on 2 December 2015.

(1)        Two questions

In his preamble to it, he posed two questions.

(a)        Is our educational system improving?

(b)        If there is improvement, is this improvement likely to raise our standing internationally?

In answer to his first, he said that there is improvement, but, alas, this improvement is only partial.  There are disparities.

There is a North-South divide in educational quality and outcomes, with the North lagging well behind the South. England is a divided nation after the age of 11, he avers.   While across the country, an equal number of primary schools – roughly 84% – are deemed to be good or outstanding, there is a gap in the achievements of pupils in secondary schools between the North and South. Altogether, 79% of secondary schools in the South are good or outstanding whereas only 68% of secondaries in the North are.

In particular, London schools do very well.  However, he states that the excuse that London and the South East are advantaged does not wash as some of poorest students in the country live in the capital.   Besides, primary schools perform equally well in North England as in the South.

The inevitable answer, therefore, to the second question is that, as a country, we still have some way to go before we can be considered world class. Continue reading

All change at Ofsted from September 2015 – again

25 Aug

I           Ofsted under attack

Ofsted is seldom out of the spotlight.  In April 2015, just prior to the general elections, it came under fire from politicians – left and right – teachers, school leaders, the unions  and think tanks, all demanding changes to the watchdog.    At the time, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Schools (HMCI), was recovering from major surgery.  Sir Michael returned to work and plans to stay on till 2017.

The Times Educational Supplement (TES) averred that he has been the most controversial chief inspector since the late Sir Chris Woodhead because of his blunt speaking.  Sir Michael lost the confidence of ministers when he criticised the government for sacking Baroness Morgan as chair of Ofsted.  He was “spitting blood” when he suspected that the Department for Education (DfE) was briefing against him.

Academics have been critical of Ofsted.   In 2012, Professor Dylan Williams of the Institute of Education University College London, said that Ofsted needed to show more “humility and demonstrate ‘integrity’ by allowing school inspections to be properly evaluated for reliability”.   Durham University’s Professor Robert Coe stated a year later that its practice was not research- or evidence-based and needed to demonstrate its lesson evaluations were valid by testing whether different inspection teams produced consistent judgements of schools.

A month later, the then special adviser to the former Secretary of State Michael Gove voiced concerns about Sir Michael’s leadership in an internal memo leaked in October 2014.  Sir Michael was furious but, following reflection, went on a charm-offensive making radical changes by deciding that his inspectors must cease making judgements on the quality of individual lessons.  Following the elections, Ofsted has now gone on to make major reforms to its inspection model.   Continue reading

Sir Chris Woodhead bids farewell

25 Aug

Sir Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools, died at the age of 68 on 23 June 2015, nine years after being diagnosed with motor neuron disease.

He was the first chief of Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) when it was created in 1994 and reigned supreme until 2000, resigning after a series of rows with Mr David Blunkett, the then education secretary.  Sir Chris was a bluntly spoken, controversial figure, remaining active in the education world as chair of Cognita, which runs schools in seven countries.  He resigned in 2013 because of his deteriorating physical condition.

An ex-student of Wallington Grammar School in Surrey, Sir Chris started his teaching career at Priory School in Shrewsbury, Shropshire (1969-72).   He became deputy head of English at Newent School, Gloucester (1972-74), and then head of English Gordano School, Bristol (1974-76). He switched to training teachers at Oxford University (1976-82) and followed this up by taking an advisory post in Shropshire (1982-88) before being appointed deputy chief education officer in Devon (1988-1990) and then deputy chief officer in Cornwall (1990-91).   When the National Curriculum Council (NCC) was established, he was appointed its deputy chief executive in 1991 and chief executive in 1991 for the next two years.    He continued in the same role when the NCC morphed into the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (1993-94).

Sir Chris had fierce clashes with teaching unions during his tenure as chief inspector. He infuriated them by saying that 15,000 teachers were incompetent. He became renowned for supporting traditional teaching methods and said that he was paid to challenge mediocrity, failure and complacency.

After resigning from Ofsted he said opportunities had been missed because of the focus on the “many initiatives in schools, the vast majority of them in my view untested, often fanciful, at best distracting teachers from their proper job”. He added: “I couldn’t stomach what I saw as a proliferation of untried initiatives, a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

In his post-Ofsted days, he became a columnist for The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times, where he freely dispensed advice to parents, the most recent of which was published on Sunday.

He wrote two books on education and was appointed visiting professor at the University of Buckingham, the sole private university in the UK, where he helped Anthony O’Hear, editor of the journal, Philosophy, to establish an education department.   His public persona appeared to be in sharp contrast to how he behaved privately.   In public, he tended to get up people’s (especially the educational establishment’s) noses but a friend and colleague said that privately he was warm and generous.

In 2011, Woodhead was knighted, which greatly cheered him at a time when his (motor neurone) disease was advancing.

In 2014, he discovered he had colon cancer which had spread to his liver. A campaigner for a change in the law on assisted dying, he said that when he was diagnosed with cancer he considered starving himself to death, but added: “You get used to it. My reaction when I was told about the motor neurone disease was fatalistic. This is the pack of cards I’ve been dealt. I’ve got to play them as best I can.”

Previously “doctors realised that there could come a point in somebody’s life that somebody who was terminally ill – where the pain and suffering was too great and the thing that the doctor should do would be to ease the passage from life to death”, he commented, speaking before the first reading of Lord Falconer’s assisted dying bill.

The motor neurone disease left the former, keen rock climber a quadriplegic in need of constant care from his second wife, Christine. He said that, even then, life had plenty of value and importance for him but that that would end if he lost the power to speak or breathe unaided, both common stages of the disease.

Sir Chris said that he, his wife and daughter would “all recognise the line has been crossed” when his suffering became too great, and know that the time had come for him to end his life.  He would love to be pushed off a cliff in his wheelchair at that point, he hinted.  Later, he considered travelling to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end his life.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Chris Woodhead started a crucial debate on school standards and reform. Meetings with him were never dull. My thoughts are with his family.”

Former chief inspector of schools: Sir Chris Woodhead had motor neurone disease



Expert’s take on improving Ofsted’s practice

13 Apr

In our 60th issue of Governors’ Agenda (pages 17 – 20, Quo Vadis, Ofsted), published on-line in January 2015, we mentioned that Birmingham’s former Chief Education Officer and the ex-Commissioner for Education in London, Sir Tim Brighouse, said that the time had come to “give greater respect and trust to schools by shifting the balance of inspection to a rigorous self-evaluation which could be “externally scrutinised and validated”.

Almost at the same time, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) announced that he was bringing inspectors in-house and abandoning the practice of outsourcing to contractors with a view to standardising the judgements of inspectors and making them more consistent. In fact, Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director for schools, acknowledged that some inspectors had relied on a “narrow range of data” and were “guilty of using the published data as a safety net for not making fully rounded professional judgements”.

Tristam Hunt, the shadow education secretary, speaking to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) at it spring 2015 conference, said that the watchdog Ofsted was starting to “choke” the “joy, wonder and beauty” out of schooling, which could end up under an “avalanche of bureaucracy”.

Over the last Easter holidays, we learnt from The Times Educational Supplement (see the issue of 3 April 2015) that Sir Mike Tomlinson, HMCI from 2000 to 2002, added his concerns to the other siren voices.  He warned that today’s inspection system was inconsistent and too dependent on data.  Continue reading

Primary Schools doing better than the Secondaries, says HMCI Wilshaw

3 Jan

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), published his third annual report on 10 December 2014.  The report was based on information derived from the inspections of over 7,000 schools, colleges and providers for further education and skills during the academic year 2013/14.   His key findings were as follows.

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