Skip to main content

Failing the five thousand

Ten thousand premises officers not sweeping playgrounds properly. Four thousand educational psychologists declared completely insane. Five thousand heads no good, says the chief inspector.

OK, I made the first two up. But not the last one, and it comes hot on the heels of his comment that good heads should welcome low staff morale.

Sir Michael Wilshaw certainly seems to be capturing headlines with his outspoken comments, and his political masters must be well pleased at the hounding he is giving the teaching profession.

So where did he get the evidence that all these heads are hopeless? From Ofsted statistics, of course, and we know how reliable they are.

It would be interesting to know the ages of these hopeless heads. Are they all ancient and gagging for early retirement? Were they appointed before the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) was created at enormous expense to ensure the nation's children would be nurtured by leaders who'd been "grown" by seminars and lectures?

Interestingly, all the future leaders who chose to spend time at my school as part of their course didn't have many kind words for the NCSL. They felt everything they needed to know could be learned from shadowing experienced heads running successful schools. Now, of course, the government has said that attending the NCSL for aspiring heads is no longer mandatory.

What does Sir Michael mean by a "good" headteacher? Judging by other comments he's made, I assume he means somebody who gets "results"... in the form of level 4 passes at primary school, and the right GCSEs at secondary. In terms of what education should really be all about, this seems short-sighted.

My first grandchild is about to be born, and when he eventually comes home from his early days at school I hope he'll run up to his mother filled with excitement and anticipation.

As he moves through primary school, I hope he'll be introduced to a rich range of experiences. He'll paint, read, write, experiment, explore and relish the excitement of rapidly changing technology. Above all, I hope he'll become a happy, well-rounded young person who cultivates a lifelong love of learning.

If he does all those things, he will have been led into learning by happy, motivated teachers who want the best for their children, and who deliver exciting, interesting lessons.

If all those things are happening, the school is being led by a head who cares about the well-being of their staff, is full of ideas, and who recognises there is more to life than stuffing a few bits of paper into a CV.

The best heads aren't just efficient managers. They are people who are fascinated by the process of education and who have grown through prolonged practical experience in the profession, leading them to really understand what young people are about and how they can be richly motivated.

Let's not forget that it's Sir Michael's inspectors who give him these damning statistics. Frankly, of the 23 Ofsted inspectors who spent time in my school over the years, only two would have made the shortlist for teaching in my school.

Which makes me think that this latest statistic should be taken with a large pinch of salt.Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you