I’ve long been thinking that radical and fundamental change in education will only happen in the UK when our economy is so seriously threatened by the likes of China, India, Singapore, South Korea, and the like, that the ‘powers that be’ would be forced to take corrective action. Indeed, five years ago Digby Jones, then head of the CBI warned us that if we didn’t pull ourselves together, China would be having our lunch and India would have our dinner.
In the past year or two, there are signs that this is beginning to happen. The present government (and, by the way, I strongly believe that this is a cross- party issue) has begun to release schools from the (often) dead hand of local education bureaucracy and has also begun to look at other, apparently successful models elsewhere in order to drastically improve the quality of education currently on offer in many schools across the country.
The latest example of this burgeoning tendency emerged at the weekend with the announcement from Sir Michael Wilshire that head teachers in ‘more than 5,000 schools are not up to standard and bear responsibility for unacceptably high levels of poor teaching’.
I don’t know Michael Wilshaw but I do know what he managed to achieve at Mossbourne Academy in Hackney. I know because my grandson goes to the school and I’m only too aware of the magnificent job he did there.
So, what changes is Wilshaw proposing?
· From the start of the new school year in September, Ofsted inspections will take place without warning, enabling inspectors to scrutinize the schools warts and all;
· The language of Ofsted reports will be simplified and comments in ‘blunt, straightforward and frank terms’ will be on the first page of each report, allowing parents to see how a school is performing at a glance;
· There will be a new Parent View website for parents to post opinions about schools online;
· There will be more frequent inspections of schools designated as requiring improvement. They will have two chances to make improvements within three years, after which they will have a twelve- to eighteen-month period in which to improve or be placed in special measures;
· What’s more, poverty will not be accepted as an excuse for low levels of achievement. Wilshaw is quoted in the Sunday Times (05/02/2012) as saying that schools should have ‘the “moral purpose” of improving the life chances of the poor’; and, furthermore, that if low SES pupils are not getting the kind of enrichment that their more middle class peers get from home, it is the responsibility of the school to make good the difference.
Clearly, this will be a challenge and there is a long way to go, but three cheers for Wilshire for setting the benchmark!