Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of Ofsted, has been under siege for much of the last few years.
Heads and teachers have described his pronouncements as “demoralising”, judgements passed on schools have been criticised, the respected NAHT (the National Association of Head Teachers) union has devised an alternative inspection system called Instead, the CBI (the Confederation of British Industry) has also demanded reform, and relations with DfE Ministers have been testy, at best.
But he received some much-needed support this week from another knighted Michael, Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Adviser at Pearson, head of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit under Tony Blair, and an all-round schools oracle who has acted as an education consultant to a number of governments around the world.
“Sir Michael has been a very good chief inspector,” said Sir Michael, at an event run by the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education.
Barber instead placed the blame for Ofsted’s failings firmly at the door of out-of-touch school inspectors who were either not across evolving teaching methods, or failed to allow for teaching techniques not in their manual.
He compared the Ofsted situation with that of financial regulators who had not kept pace with the number of new products being sold by banks before the crash of 2007, and no longer “understood” what they were supposed to be regulating.
“The challenge in a regulatory world is to keep up with the pace of change – the problem for Ofsted inspectors is how you keep up with the front edge of teaching,” he said. “If Ofsted inspects on frameworks that hold schools back, then that can’t happen. How regulators keep up with the cutting edge is a huge challenge.”
Wilshaw’s move this summer – when he purged 40 per cent of Ofsted inspectors after they were assessed as not good enough to judge schools reliably – certainly acknowledged that problem and he will hope he now has an inspection team staffed only by those who have kept, and continue to keep, abreast of developments in teaching.
This week’s seal of approval for his approach from someone with the standing of Sir Michael Barber is no doubt most welcome. But what he will really want to see is a clear sign that Ofsted has turned the tide.