Wilshaw: 'Maverick buccaneering' headteachers key to improving England's schools

Richard Vaughan

The future of education in England depends on energetic, dynamic and "perhaps slightly maverick" school leaders who are not afraid to "ruffle feathers", according to Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw.

The government is looking to ambitious and "buccaneering" headteachers to lead school improvement, he suggested, individuals who understand that children have just one chance to get a good education.

Sir Michael's comments came in a speech to the Norfolk Annual Headteacher Conference, during which he also began outlining his plans for the future of school inspection in England.

In future, schools rated as good will get frequent, but shorter, inspections, he said.

The proposals are expected to be published for consultation by the watchdog tomorrow.

In his speech, Sir Michael said: "Government is very much looking to ambitious, buccaneering, go-getting school leaders to make the running in school improvement in 2014.

"Leaders who understand their pupils have just one chance of a good education and are determined to go the extra mile to make sure they get it.

"Leaders who are prepared to battle, to do the tough things and to stand up to the vested interests that have impeded progress for generations.

"Leaders who show a scornful intolerance towards the type of mediocrity that still characterises too much of our education system – and which until recently was dressed up in the euphemism of 'satisfactory'.

"It very much chimes with my own conviction that the future of education in this country depends on these energetic, dynamic, entrepreneurial, and perhaps slightly maverick leaders who thrive on competition and aren't afraid to ruffle feathers."

The comments echo those he made back in 2011, while still principal of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, where he said heads should see themselves as Clint Eastwood characters from his spaghetti western films.   

Sir Michael told the conference that schools had responded positively to Ofsted's move to toughen up inspections – including a decision to replace the "satisfactory" rating with "requires improvement".

He added: "I am the first to recognise that Ofsted needs to move towards a more proportionate, risk-based model for inspection that focuses on those struggling institutions that need a greater level of scrutiny and intervention.

"At the same time, we need to move to a new inspection model that keeps a more watchful eye on good schools so that they don't slip back but continue to improve. That is why, when we launch our consultation tomorrow, I will be suggesting frequent but shorter inspections of good schools led by HMI, with a much greater emphasis on professional dialogue."

Ahead of tomorrow's proposals, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) warned that sweeping reform of Ofsted is needed.

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: "Ofsted's legitimacy hangs in the balance. Schools can no longer learn effectively from its adversarial approach. The current model of inspection has reached the end of its useful life and now holds the education system back.

"The regime stifles innovation, provokes unnecessary bureaucracy and damages recruitment. Small changes will not be enough: we desperately need a brand new approach to emerge from the consultation. Inspection only has a future if it can work with schools to help them improve."

Ofsted's plans for inspections are also likely to include proposals for more no-notice visits.

Last month it was announced that Ofsted inspectors had been sent to dozens of schools across England to conduct snap inspections under the watchdog's existing powers, amid serious concerns about standards.
Schools usually get half a day's notice of an inspection.

Related stories:

Clint and me: Mossbourne head says school leaders are 'lone heroes' - 18 February 2011

Ofsted to create up to 100 'exceptional' heads a year - 5 September 2014

No-notice Ofsted inspections treat teachers like 'naughty children', claim heads - 16 September 2014

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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