The chief inspector of schools has clashed with council leaders, accusing them of “Ofsted bashing” to detract from their own failures in overseeing education.
In a speech dubbed “very patronising” by its audience, Sir Michael Wilshaw said those who criticised the inspectorate for changing its mind about the quality of schools in Birmingham following the Trojan Horse scandal had “very little understanding” of it.
Wilshaw was responding to criticisms made by the Local Government Association that Ofsted was losing credibility due to its habit of reinspecting and downgrading schools after they hit the headlines. Five Birmingham schools were reinspected and downgraded to inadequate following the controversy over an alleged plot to introduce Islamisaton into schools across the city.
Speaking at the National Children and Adults Services Conference in Manchester, Sir Michael said: “Those of you who would question why outstanding schools in Birmingham could so quickly decline to inadequate have very little understanding of how things can go so badly wrong, when sudden changes in leadership trigger a set of events that lead to failure. Those headteachers who had spent their careers improving schools in Birmingham were intimidated and marginalised out of their jobs and received little or no support from the local authority.
In a call for improved standards in local authority supervision of education, he said that Ofsted had adapted over time, and that the LGA must also “reflect on whether, over the last half century, you have adapted and changed in the same way. You need to recognise that those in power have too often seen you as obstacles to change and to reform and improvement. I’m being frank with you this morning. Ofsted is here to challenge the system to do better. Are you prepared to do the same?”
Wilshaw began his speech saying he knew Ofsted was “unlikely to win any popularity contests”. By the end of it that was certainly the case amongst his audience.
Her hands shaking, Ayfer Orhan, a councillor in the London Borough of Enfield responsible for schools, children’s services and protection, said to Wilshaw in a question and answer session afterwards: “I hadn’t intended to ask a question today but following that speech, I found it very patronising and I’m quite angry with you. I don’t know who wrote it but you might need to go back to their manager.
“How do you respond to concerns from some that Ofsted is not independent and that its relationship with ministers is rather too cushy? Or that it’s deliberately failing schools so that they can become academised?”
Wilshaw replied: “That’s nonsense. None of my [inspectors] fail schools so that they become academised. In terms of the relationship with the department, it’s important that we get on with the department but sometimes we don’t. Sometimes I will disagree upon an issue. I’ve made no secret of the occasional bust up; we’re an independent inspectorate.”
Wilshaw also used the speech to criticise the “postcode lottery” in school quality.
“Regional variation in standards is holding our nation back,” he said. “We still have a postcode lottery in this country that consigns some children to substandard schools, yet provides others with excellent opportunities to fulfil their potential.”Reuse content