'Affable' Sir Michael wins over teachers

23rd November 2012 at 00:00
Speech at the London Festival of Education impresses the crowd

Since becoming Ofsted's chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw has acquired a reputation for pulling no punches in his criticism of failing schools and teachers.

Although the straight-talking Clint Eastwood of school leaders may have been expecting a rough ride from an audience of teachers at Saturday's London Festival of Education, his charm offensive seems to have built a few bridges with the profession.

Sir Michael's speech was filled with teacher-pleasing lines - not least his insistence that the days of "tick box" lesson observations are over. What seemed to strike the audience particularly was the sudden realisation that, just maybe, Sir Michael was actually quite a likeable chap.

"Was impressed by Wilshaw. Seemed to be affable, approachable and sensible," one audience member tweeted. "I'm starting to think the Wilshaw-Bogeyman is a (senior leadership team)-propagated myth," another added. One teacher even said she wished all inspectors were as reasonable as the chief inspector.

Setting out to dispel a few popular misconceptions for the assembled crowd of educationalists, academics, students, parents and policymakers, Sir Michael said: "We don't want to see lessons that are too crowded, too frenetic and with too many activities designed to impress inspectors."

Ofsted does not have a "preferred style" of teaching, he insisted. Rather, judgements are all about "the quality of learning and the progress students are making".

He also acknowledged that his inspectors are not always up to scratch. "We're going to get it wrong from time to time but we're trying to iron out those inconsistencies," he said.

The chief inspector even had the packed hall at the University of London's Institute of Education (IoE) laughing: first when he stressed the importance of heads "marching the corridors", before amending this to "walking the corridors"; and again when he recounted his worst-ever lesson as a teacher. "Sir, have you thought of doing something different with your life?" one bored student asked him after stifling a yawn.

A crowd of more than 1,400 people attended the sell-out inaugural festival, organised by a small group including TES and the IoE.

Other speakers included education secretary Michael Gove, who was grilled by journalist David Aaronovitch, and Lord Adonis, former schools minister and architect of the academies programme. Best-selling authors Anthony Horowitz and Michael Rosen discussed how to create the next generation of keen readers, while educationalist Sir Tim Brighouse, deputy London mayor Munira Mirza and Educating Essex head Vic Goddard pondered the meaning of education.

In the final session, Wellington College's head, Anthony Seldon, asked poet Bridget Minamore, mathematics professor Celia Hoyles and Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh about how they were shaped by their experiences as pupils.

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