I am beginning to feel sorry for Ofsted chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw. The departure of Michael Gove, as education secretary, has left him somewhat stranded on the current educational battlefield.
It was Gove, after all, who persuaded Wilshaw to take on the job as Chief Inspector in the first place, describing his man, the former head of Mossbourne Community Academy in east London, as a “hero”. Gove’s sacking clearly surprised Wilshaw. “I’m shocked and surprised,” was his response on LBC radio.
Whether or not he follows Gove through the exit door, Wilshaw is becoming an increasingly isolated and beleaguered figure. Teacher unions have, already, passed votes of ‘no confidence’ in him and called for his resignation.
Back in January of this year The Sunday Times reported that two think-tanks were working on reports that would be critical of Ofsted. Concerned that this might be a consequence of DfE ‘insiders’ briefing against him, the Chief Inspector said that he was “spitting blood”.
Although Michael Gove reassured him of his support, the first of these reports, “Watching the Watchmen”, painted an alarming picture of Ofsted incompetence. Published by Policy Exchange, the think-tank set up by Michael Gove in 2002, it claimed: “The evidence suggests that when it comes to relying on the judgement of a trained Ofsted inspector on how effective [is] a lesson, you would be better off flipping a coin.”
Wishaw’s equilibrium cannot have been improved by Robert Peal’s devastating new report on the inspection service. Published by Civitas and entitled, “Playing the Game: The enduring influence of the preferred Ofsted teaching style”, it prises open further the lid on the reality behind Ofsted school inspections.
For all Wilshaw may protest otherwise, it is abundantly clear that at Ofsted the ‘lunatics’ have taken over the asylum. In a letter to inspectors of January 2014, the Ofsted chief begged his inspectors to stop promoting a favoured, fashionable but largely failed method of teaching: “ Please, please, please think carefully before criticising a lesson because it doesn’t conform to a particular view of how children should be taught”.
So-called ‘child-centred’ learning has become be a kind of holy writ for many inspectors. It is adhered to and promoted with almost religious fervour against the more traditional, tried and tested method of ‘whole-class’ teaching. Yes, the method used, to a large, but not exclusive extent, in the most successful school systems around the world!
Peal’s research, amongst other things, measures the impact of the Chief Inspector’s begging letter to his team of inspectors. Aside from some cosmetic window dressing over the use in reports of certain phrases that might give the game away, Peal demonstrates fairly conclusively that the promotion of the benign sounding ‘child-centred’ learning continues unabated. Verbal feedback to schools seems to be particularly unequivocal in promoting this fake ‘good practice’.
The new Secretary of State for Education is unlikely to understand, yet, that what she has inherited from Michael Gove is an educational ‘Kulturkampf’. She should read Robert Peal’s report, as a matter of urgency. For the sake of our children and of our country I hope that she is not a slow learner.