The Tale of Two Michaels; ‘Le Ofsted Split’

February 3rd 2014

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.

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!

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?