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June O'Sullivan, LEYF CEO

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The Tale of Two Michaels; ‘Le Ofsted Split’

The breakup of relationship always fascinates us. We are drawn to the details like a moth to light. The intricate relationship between the Secretary of State for Education and Ofsted is currently disintegrating very publicly. Last week the Sunday Times (in a piece aptly placed next to the French Prime Minister ‘Le Split) exposed Sir Michael Wilshaw’s distress at Michael Gove’s tacitly approved attacks on Ofsted. This week, Mr Gove sacked the Chair of Ofsted and is trying to convince the world that he wont appoint a crony.

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According to the Sunday Times Sir Michael Wilshaw was displeased, shocked, angry and outraged by right-wingers questioning the integrity of the Inspectorate whose job it is to rate the quality of schools and which he credits as having done more to raise standards in the last 20 years than any other organisation. It would seem the crux of the problem is a right-wing dislike of Sir Michael’s insistence on inspecting and finding fault with flagship academies and free schools as well as his belief that the Local Authorities should have the overview of these schools. Think Tanks such as Civitas want a special inspectorate for academies and free schools while Policy Exchange (set up by Gove) is drafting a paper asking if the schools inspectorate is fit or purpose.

Sir Michael’s worry is that that these people don’t know anything about education and want children to be lectured for 6 hours a day in serried ranks. He is against this arguing that we need a balanced approach to teaching as children need to become independent thinkers, able to co-operate and work in teams as well as pass exams and build up skills and knowledge.  He sees these attacks is the right-wing blob simply trying to replace a left-wing and neither are informed, learned or expert about education.

I am not having the Government or anyone else tell me and the inspectorate what they should assess as good teaching‘ He says he ‘won’t be leant on.’
I admire this as some young whippersnapper advisers tried to lean on me when I dared to object to Government policies; a most distasteful experience…for them!

'It's a pity, but the people capable of running this country are too smart to get into politics.'

Now, you may wonder if I have become an Ofsted groupie?! Afterall, I take the same view as Sir Michael and dislike people telling us what makes good childcare and education, especially when they know nothing about the subject. However, I admire both the ‘Michael’s’ desire to improve things but I am prepared to challenge their methods. I was, after all, the principal instigator of the #OfstedBigConversation which exposed the weaknesses of inspections in Early Years. In fairness, Ofsted has begun to listen and we are making some progress under Sir Michael’s leadership and for that we are thankful. I am hoping he is willing to continue to talk to those of us who are very clued up about what makes good education for very small children.  The DfE certainly won’t.

So, the public spat between the two Michaels and the emerging battle between the Secretary of State’s office and Ofsted begs some serious questions. Firstly, what role should advisors play in the shaping of education policy and practice? Secondly, should education be the playground of politicians? Finally, why are jobs such as Chief Inspectors and Chairs of Public Bodies in the gift of politicians?

  • Sue Egersdorff

    ‘The road to hell in education is paved with false dichotomies’
    Oceans of Innovation
    Institute for Public Policy Research 2012

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop playing political ping pong and adult “power rangers” with our children’s every day lives and futures and talk more about our responsibility in public office to listen to those we serve. First and foremost, I believe parents want their child to be noticed, understood and cared for with affection and warmth whether the school model is academy, independent, free school or local authority maintained. Relationships within school are what matter most to children! It would be reassuring and indeed ground breaking if senior appointments reflected support for those with a track record in building relationships based on relentless curiosity to find out more about children’s lives and learning. In this market driven education system that would truly merit a judgement of ‘outstanding’ in customer service.

  • Catriona Nason

    Yes June
    just why are Chief Inspectors and Chairs of Public Bodies in the gift of
    politicians? Apart from the obvious lack of knowledge, experience and
    skills in the area in which they are working, there is the constant rocking of
    the political boat as they come and go and we are left to deal with someone new
    coming along and putting their political stamp on the job. Setting up to lose methinks!

    • June O’Sullivan

      True and its all sides and persuasions. Bit depressing, glass ceilings, jobs for the boys, cronyism, all stacks up against the fair meritocratic process. Or am I just being naïve!

  • Jeannebz

    Excellent June – I was recently at a Westminster Briefing and similar debates arose as you may imagine. If the politicians were learning whilst they were playing in the ‘education playground’ I would be all for it – but perhaps they need to learn some observation and listening skills – and hear the voices of the ‘experienced other’? Otherwise they are just playing around with children’s lives and those who are immediately affected will not get their time over again… we need all children to be able to be children now…. not after they have made up their minds..

    • June O’Sullivan

      I love your idea of the education playground. What a brilliant image.

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