Comment: Geoff Barton gives Ofsted a dressing down

Headteacher Geoff Barton from King Edward VI School Headteacher Geoff Barton from King Edward VI School

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
9:30 AM

I’m beginning to wonder whether Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, views his role as headmaster to the nation.

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Hardly a week goes by when he isn’t wagging a stern finger at us or pronouncing once again on what those of us working in schools should be doing more of, or (more often) less of.

I think he regards us – England’s 483,000 teachers - as if we were lined up for one of his assemblies, ready to sit on bony chairs only when instructed. God help the boy who unwittingly coughs as the last not of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ evaporates in the dusty morning sunlight.

Last week Sir Michael was making clear that Ofsted inspectors will look more closely at the way teachers dress – whether we are tidy enough.

We’ve had him previously suggesting that a crack team of top teachers should be sent in to the country’s failing schools. These people, it seemed, would form some kind of hit squad, ready to tackle the complacency and remitting low expectations of England’s worst performers.

But why would you take a brilliant teacher from, say, inner-city Hackney and draft her into a poor school in a coastal town for just two weeks? Anyone who knows anything about real learning knows that relationships matter, that great teachers do more than just deliver impersonal lectures, and that quick fixes are, by definition, short-lived.

A far better solution would be to look at how we incentivise the most committed teachers so that they want to work in our most challenging areas, rather than being parachuted in.

So it was a proposal that rose and sank without trace, a forlorn pebble plopped into the educational swamp.

Sir Michael also lambasted us in the state sector for not getting the brightest students into top universities.

I have to confess that this one stuck in my craw as the head of a truly comprehensive school where 17 students over four years have gained paces at Oxford or Cambridge and around 40% have got into Russell Group universities – this country’s so-called elite universities.

And so last week he was at it again. Ofsted, he declared, would pay more attention to what teachers were wearing.

To which – forgive my half-term non-standard English usage - I say: how bloody dare they?

More than most people I know, I subscribe to the principle that teachers should set the tone in their dress code for high expectations. At our school, we expect male staff to wear a jacket and tie and women to have a similar sense of formality.

We will pick up staff who aren’t following our agreed dress code. It’s an important part of our ethos, of our expectations. But doing that is my job – not Ofsted’s.

What next – are inspectors going to check that every school has a salad bar, or that books are only marked in red biro, that there’s no graffiti in the boys’ toilets?

Of course Sir Michael Wilshaw is perfectly entitled to express opinions. He has excellent credentials. Michael Gove once stood Sir Michael on a stage and described him as ‘my hero’.

Despite that, Sir Michael has done well.

But he does have a tendency to do what some pompously opinionated headteachers are criticised for – that is, for being pompously opinionated.

Given the growing concern over the inconsistency of Ofsted inspection teams, I think Sir Michael might be tactfully advised to focus more on the day job rather giving the impression of wanting to micromanage every classroom in every school.

There are enough big egos already in England’s education system. I know from – ahem – personal experience.

So, Sir Michael, could we all just get on with our day jobs?

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Sixth Form joke:

A man was arrested for stealing helium balloons. Police held him for a while and then let him go.

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