Heads should be 'bruisers' and 'battleaxes', says Ofsted chief

Too many secondary school headteachers are “appeasers” when they should be “bruisers” and “battleaxes”, the Ofsted chief inspector has said.

Eleanor Busby

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Sir Michael Wilshaw has claimed that Teach First graduates full of “vigour and enthusiasm” are put off by “poor leadership”, culture and behaviour in the schools they enter.

At a summit hosted by the Sutton Trust, Sir Michael said that improvements must be made in secondary schools, especially with leadership, claiming that they are “not very good”.

He added: “We have got to improve our secondary school performance and we won’t get social mobility unless that happens.”

On a panel at the summit today, the outgoing head of Ofsted stressed that teacher retention is“absolutely critical” and can be even more important than recruitment. He said: “Unless we get leadership right then we will still continue to have problems.”

The head of Ofsted, who will stand down later this year, said: “We need headteachers in our secondary schools who are going to be really transformative leaders and we haven’t got enough of them.

“We need battlers, we need bruisers, we need battleaxes who are going to fight the good fight and are absolutely determined to get high standards. We have got too many appeasers in our secondary schools that are prepared to put up with mediocrity.”

The comments echo those Sir Michael made in 2011, when he said headteachers needed to be “more like Clint Eastwood” in the western Pale Rider.

Heads, he said, should be "like the lone warrior, fighting for righteousness”

He added that it was a “moral outrage” that the independent sector was not doing enough to help poor children in neighbouring state schools.

“What we want are independent schools to take ownership of the outcomes in a local primary or secondary and show what can be done with great teaching and leadership.”

Private school staff should help those schools “to benefit from the good practice in the independent sector” he said, especially since academies and free schools were independent institutions.

He added: “I get quite angry when I hear independent school heads saying ‘inequality is getting worse’ and wringing their hands, well we know that. They should get stuck in. Sponsor an academy.

“And I think they should lose their tax subsidies and the reliefs they get from the Charity Commission unless they sponsor an academy and show that they really mean what they say.”

Chris King, headmaster of Leicester Grammar School and chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of elite private schools said many independent schools were already finding ways to improve education through “successful and unsung partnerships”.

“This simplistic, adversarial approach does not help anyone, least of all pupils”, he said.

A DfE spokesperson said: “The assumption that state schools need to learn from the independent sector is outdated.

"Thanks to our reforms, 1.4 million more pupils and counting are being taught in good or outstanding state schools than in 2010 and, as the independent Good Schools Guide has recognised, the state sector is increasingly matching the private sector in terms of academic attainment and learning environment.

“High quality school leaders are an essential part of delivering our vision of educational excellence everywhere."

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