Wilshaw 'Not Satan' shock dunking reveals: why good teachers needn't take umbrage

Sir Michael Wilshaw (artist's impression)
Did you read the latest? The Head of OfSTED claimed that teachers were lazy, bolted on the bell like Usain Bolt on poppers, and wants teachers to earn salary hikes by working their fingers into a jammy paste, like white mice barelling round an exercise wheel. What a bastard.

Except he didn't. If you read how his interview was reported, you'd be forgiven for thinking that he had, though. There is an uncomfortable spectacle in debate, and one that I see regularly in my sixth formers: polarisation, then calcification, as what could be an exploration of the truth devolves into the more comfortable territory of binary brawling. Wishaw has become a victim of this, and some now can't listen to the man without hearing the words 'I hate teachers and all they stand for' buzzing in their ears like reverse subliminal messages from Old Nick on a Judas Priest album.

A cursory examination of what he actually said, rather than a game of Chinese Whisper outrage, reveals something quite different. His deractors claim that he advises teachers who leave at 3 to have their pay capped, when he didn't say anything like it. This literal interpretation is frankly, a bit simple, and makes me worry about these people being allowed to hold scissors. His remarks are clearly aimed at teachers who do just enough to get by, instead of enough to do well.

'Michael, are you SURE this is strictly necessary?'
Here is wisdom; everywhere I've worked, every institution and industry, has been populated by a diverse range of abilities and aptitudes. I would say that in teaching, most teachers are pretty damn good; that there are a few who are superheroes; that there is a broad body of dedicated pros slogging their guts out for the greater good. And then there is a small minority who, like in any workplace, who are there for the wrong reasons; who don't plan their lessons enough; who dodge every chore; who mark only when Hailey's Comet runs a ring round us. The ones who don't give a damn. Every teacher knows teachers like this, and if you don't then you are fortunate or lying.

Now, as the head of a body designed to inspect and regulate education (much as I rail against its functions in many ways) he is surely entitled to set a bar; to lay out his stall and say 'THIS high, f*ckers.' Some people apear to have mistaken him for the Candy Man, or someone who will rub talcum powder into their tummies after they shower. He (to the best of my knowledge) is not this man. He is the arse-kicker; he is Chief arse-kicker. His job isn't just about saddle-punting, but it is partially this. He is not the Cheerleader; he is not the Teacher's Champion. His job is to draw boundaries for schools and say, 'That's where you stand.'

Wishaw, yesterday.
True confessions: I rate the guy. Unlike many rentagobs that saturate the edusphere, he actually did it; he walked the Green Mile of tough teaching. He ran a school in a hard area that acted as real engine of social mobility for kids who, had they been left in other circumstances, might have fulfilled the prohecies of their statistical destiny. Yet even his success with Mossbourne is explained away by those who just can't accept that his way might be right in his school, or many schools similar. Gove and his coven are often accused of 'ideology driven politics' but I see just as much of that in the Mossbourne deniers. It's madness. They claim the intake is weighted towards the wealthy, when in reality the Free School Meals stats are breathtaking; they claim the staff are young and unburdened with familial responsibility, when I know from personal experience that this isn't true AND would that matter anyway? What's wrong with hiring new NQTs? God knows they need a job too.

Claims that he is a media disaster are made by people who endlessly misquote him, creating a media disaster. It's like pointing at someone and then berating them for being attention seekers. The media does with him what it will; lazy journalists will draw whatever caricature they think will make the best story; lazy media commentators (especially ones who have never dealt with the media) will claim that he 'should have known' the flack his comments would generate, and then generate the flack without, it seems, reading what he said. Or being aware of the irony.

I wouldn't mind, but education needs more than this pointless pontificating; at the bottom of this invented media circus of froth and foam, are the kids. And from what I've seen, kids in the kinds of schools we need to be most concerned about- low income areas- need the medicine this man is prescribing: boundaries; consequences; tough love; high expectations; teachers who can do this. And if we care about social mobility, maybe we should listen.


  1. Well written and well said Tom. Sir Michael used to come and inspect us at King Solomon while he was at ARK. His assessment and feedback were fair and because of Mossbourne's reputation we valued what he had to say.

  2. Julia Skinner ( @theheadsoffice)24 September 2012 at 18:21

    I agree & rate the man. I also agree that the mis-representation of what folks say is a pain in the proverbial and hinders any chance of progress. As for those teachers who thankfully are in the minority it is soul destroying for staff & leadership alike to see them rise to the occasion when Ofsted visit. For the sake of our children they should be removed and quickly. I think Sir Michael has a view on that too!

  3. In poker there is saying that, if you look around the table and don't know who the worst player is, it is you. Perhaps the same might be said of teachers who don't know anyone who doesn't work hard as they ought to.

    Broadly I completely agree with you on this. The only caveat I would wish to make is that I don't believe there is particular legs in the idea of raising standards in teaching by making a minority of teachers work harder. Undoubtedly, for those few teachers that are currently winging it on the bare minimum it would raise standards, but it is hardly a panacea for all the ills of teaching.

    If I were head of Ofsted I would be able to find a lot more useful and meaningful things to say about raising standards, that weren't merely a dig (albeit an accurate one) at a small fraction of the teaching profession. How about saying that if teaching is to be outstanding teachers need more time to plan and prepare? How about saying that if teaching is to be outstanding teachers need more time to observe others, include teachers at other schools, and to observe others when the purpose is CPD and not PM? How about saying that if teaching is to be outstanding teacher training needs to place far greater focus on behaviour management and practical strategies to achieve this? How about saying that if teaching is to be outstanding teaching salaries need to rise dramatically to raise the competition (and thus standards) of would-be teachers? How about saying that if teaching is to be outstanding teachers themselves should have a huge say in changes in education?

    Wilshaw isn't wrong, but he isn't altogether right.


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