Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw spoke at the education think tank CentreForum recently, setting out his ambitions for the future of English education. He outlined the importance of high expectations for all, and the responsibility to provide young people with different pathways to success. Citing his time as a headteacher, he said that a “one size fits all” approach will never deliver for all abilities. He also emphasised the low youth unemployment of countries such as Switzerland (3.7% to the UK’s 12%), saying that we can learn from our international competitors in shaping education for those who may not be able to achieve academic targets.
Sir Michael did emphasise the improvements made in the last 30 years, especially in primary schools. However, he identified three main challenges:
the gains made by children in primary schools are often lost in secondaries;
a disproportionate amount of that underperformance is in the north and the midlands;
educational provision for the many children who do not succeed at 16 or who would prefer an alternative to higher education is inadequate at best and non-existent at worst.
According to Sir Michael, the way to counter these issues is to improve:
accountability and oversight
the way schools of all types work together
leadership, and the leadership of teaching in particular
He stated that good leadership was the most important force in driving up standards, but that we currently do not have enough good leaders or governors. He also gave his support to regional schools commissioners (RSCs), despite saying that their role and accountability is not entirely clear. In terms of governance, he said not a lot had been done in the past three years to improve the professionalism of governing bodies. He argued against specific categories of governor, saying that they should always been chosen for their skills. He also argued that if paying governors was needed to ensure that they were doing a good job, then this is something he feels should be considered.