Exclusive: 'Education given a backseat by a government fixated on Brexit'

Sir Michael Wilshaw says political energy invested in education has "dissipated" because of Brexit

brexit education

Education has “taken a backseat” and is “not a priority” for the government because it is “completely fixated” on Brexit, the former chief inspector of Ofsted has said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw claimed that political energy in the educaton system had “dissipated” since he worked as a headteacher in the days of New Labour.

Appearing on a panel at the Best in Class summit organised by the Sutton Trust in New York last week, Sir Michael said: “I think political mood music is really important.”

He said “the most energised period” in his career as a headteacher was when Labour leader Tony Blair pledged that his three priorities for government would be “education, education, education”.

Sir Michael said: “It wasn’t just about the money – there was certainly more money put into education – it was about the energy of government and its commitment to improving standards and its commitment to reform. That energised the whole system.”

He went on: “We’ve lost a lot of that energy over the last few years, for a range of reasons.

“One of the reasons has been Brexit, where government is completely fixated with the whole very complex issue about leaving Europe, and education and educational issues have taken a backseat.

“It’s not a priority. It wasn’t a priority in the last general election, it wasn’t a big issue in all the parties’ manifestos, and it wasn’t a big issue with parents unfortunately either.”

He added: “A lot of the energy that I experienced twenty years has dissipated and in some ways been lost.”

Sir Michael’s claim that parents were not interested in education at the last election conflicts with polling which suggested that concerns about school funding caused more than 750,000 voters to switch their support.

The Department for Education was approached for comment.

Sir Michael also called for the government to introduce a "national leadership programme" to deploy school leaders where they were most needed. 

“I think there is a deficit in my country in terms of national leadership programmes," he said.

"What we need are national leadership programmes which identify potential leaders early on and bring them through, and secondly and most importantly, put them into those parts of the country which have long legacies of underperformance and failure. Because that’s not what’s happening.

"Teachers and leaders gravitate where it’s easiest to teach or most attractive to teach, and that’s principally why London schools have done well.”

He suggested the government could use "incentives" and "central contracts" to direct leaders to schools with the greatest need.

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