Sir Michael Wilshaw: Let headteachers fine 'feckless' parents

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Headteachers should be given the power to impose fines on “feckless” parents who do not attend parents’ evenings or make sure their children arrive at school with the right books, Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has said.

Speaking today at a Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation summit on the pupil premium, Sir Michael said that when he was a headteacher he “would have loved” to be able to impose fines on parents who he thought were not “supporting the school”.

In an outspoken session, Sir Michael also said that he was “sick to death” of hearing “silly things” about Ofsted; that it was "incredibly tedious" to argue that fear of a negative Ofsted judgement was deterring potential school leaders and that as a headteacher he had written “very nasty” letters in which he had accused people of being “bad parents”.

“It’s really up to headteachers to be challenging to children and staff, but challenging to parents as well,” he said.

“I used to send very nasty letters to parents and say: 'You haven’t turned up to parents evening three times on the trot, [so] you’re not going to get your child’s report until you come and see me.'

“On a number of occasions I’d say, 'You’re a bad parent, you’re not supporting your child.' And the reaction was not great sometimes, but it needs to be said. I’d love to have had the legal backing to fine parents who didn’t support the school, but that’s a long way off, I suspect.”

Speaking after the event he added: “If it’s a parent that’s doing their very very best, but they can't because of all sorts of personal circumstances, fine, but the feckless parent who just does not support the school, they should be told unequivocally that they’re not supporting it and, if necessary, be fined. I know that’s controversial.”

Asked whether the “fear” of Ofsted played a role in deterring would-be headteachers, Sir Michael said: “That’s what’s trotted out, day in, day out, and I find it incredibly tedious.

“What teachers want is to work in good schools with headteachers who are ambitious for their school. They’ll leave schools that are poor and where there’s no ambition and no drive, and our job at Ofsted is to try to get more and more schools to good so that teachers go there and stay there.”

Sir Michael was also asked whether Ofsted and the government could use “positive incentives, rather than just punishment” for struggling schools. He said: “This is not punishment – that’s a ridiculous, pejorative thing to say.”

He said many schools were “dire” before Ofsted was set up and that “greater accountability has transformed the system”.

He added: “Anyone who thinks Ofsted should be abolished needs their heads tested, because as soon as our influence declines you’ll see standards declining.” 

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