How long will Ofsted's chief stay?

21st October 2011 at 01:00
Sir Michael reveals that he is unlikely to sign a five-year contract

It has taken ministers more than 15 months to find the right person to lead Ofsted. But TES has learnt that it is unlikely to be much longer before they have to start looking again.

In an interview this week, Sir Michael Wilshaw, who is set to take over at the inspectorate in January, reveals that his contract could be shorter than the five years served by his predecessor. Sources suggest it will be as little as two years.

The news emerged just days after education secretary Michael Gove officially announced his successful wooing of the feted head of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, east London, who he described as "one of the best educators of our generation".

The likely brevity of Sir Michael's tenure as chief inspector may take some of the shine off ministers' triumphant appointment - heads' leaders are already raising fears that it could plunge schools into a period of continuous change.

But the 65-year-old has told TES that, however long his tenure, he "hoped to make a difference", and lost no time in setting out his stall, warning that the "quality of teaching has to improve" and that he would have to look at whether the watchdog had been tough enough in the past.

"Ofsted has enormous influence in driving up standards in the judgments that it makes, and if those judgments are not sufficiently rigorous those standards won't go up," Sir Michael said.

But asked if he would sign a five-year contract like Christine Gilbert, who left the job this summer, he said: "I am still in discussion with the Department on that at the moment. Given that I am of a certain age, that is something I will discuss with them. It could be shorter than that."

Sir Michael would not comment on whether his time as chief inspector could be as short as two years, but did not rule it out. The head, who has won plaudits for his high results and strict discipline, revealed that he had thought "long and hard" about the Ofsted job, which he regarded as "a hugely influential post to say what needs to be said".

It has been clear since at least June 2010 that Ms Gilbert would leave this year, but the Government had to advertise twice and extend deadlines before it was able to secure Sir Michael for the position.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said a rapid turnover of chief inspectors was not good for teachers. "If he is going to go after two years we hope he will put in place policies that are sustainable," Mr Lightman said. "We don't want to have to face another series of changes."

Sir Michael has begun his task by focusing on "coasting" teachers, a problem that he said had to be addressed if there were to be more "outstanding" schools. It was "pretty straightforward" to identify teachers who were "obviously incapable", he told TES.

But a "more pressing issue" was "the teacher who just does enough and no more than enough, who year in, year out just comes up to the mark, but only just, and does the bare minimum". He said that the last Ofsted annual report had found that only around half of lessons were good or better. "That is a key issue," he said. "It has to be much higher than that."

Sir Michael has already said that heads can be divided into those who are "fairly mediocre" and don't challenge the performance of pupils and staff, and "good" ones who do. But his comments are leading to disquiet among school leaders. Mr Lightman said he had concerns about the "focus" of Sir Michael's initial comments and the balance they strike between emphasising weaknesses and strengths.

Asked if he could reassure those who feared he was taking Ofsted back to Chris Woodhead-style "teacher-bashing", Sir Michael said teaching was "a noble profession", but some teachers were letting it down.

"The great majority are very professional people who do their best," he said. "But in any large body of people there are going to be people that are not very good, and that has to be recognised.

"It is really important that we tell the truth, and if there is an issue of poor teaching in our schools it is really important that (the chief inspector) talks about it in a very clear, unequivocal manner."

The Department for Education said that Sir Michael's appointment had to be ratified by the Privy Council and that full details would be published "in due course".


In an open letter to Sir Michael Wilshaw this week, the Association of School and College Leaders called on the new chief inspector to:

- prevent the Parent View website, launched by Ofsted yesterday to gather parental views, from compromising judgments;

- ensure greater consistency across inspection teams;

- judge the quality of schools and not their intakes;

- avoid a culture that focuses on finding fault;

- do more to help schools spread best practice.

Original headline: New Ofsted chief admits he may not be in it for the long haul

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