Michael Wilshaw needs YOU: how we can all help improve education, right now

Wilshaw, yesterday.
Michael Wilshaw needs your help.

You heard me. There's been a flurry on Twitter this morning that gladdened my wholly humble heart. An elder statesman of the edusphere, Oldandrew (@oldandrewuk- don't forget the uk part; like the X-Factor, he's been syndicated internationally. The Ukrainian version is hilarious) has been banging the breakfast gong about the current Head of Ofsted's actual stance on how teachers should teach, and by extension, how schools should encourage their staff to behave. Read his blog for a good summary if you want to know more, but I'll condense it down into weapons grade.
'We, and in that word “we” I include OFSTED, should be wary of trying to prescribe a particular style of teaching, whether it be a three part lesson; an insistence that there should be a balance between teacher led activities and independent learning, or that the lesson should start with aims and objectives with a plenary at the end and so on and so forth. We should be wary of too much prescription. In my experience a formulaic approach pushed out by a school or rigidly prescribed in an inspection evaluation schedule traps too many teachers into a stultifying and stifling mould which doesn’t demand that they use their imagination, initiative and common sense. Too much direction is as bad as too little.'
In Communist Ofsted, class teaches YOU
Now this astounds some; the idea that Ofsted aren't actually looking for all that fluff and flimflam that has characterised so much of teaching in the past few decades. Three part lessons, for example, emerged from the cauldron of the National Strategies, which merely suggested that good lessons often contained trinary structures, NOT that all lessons should have three parts. Other dogmas, like group work being the best way to learn, or children only learning if doing so independently, have been pretty thoroughly spit-roasted by current research evidence that suggests there isn't much evidence for either claim other than speculation and wishful thinking.

Wilshaw, of course, has the chops, and the notches on his axe to suggest someone who knows what he's bloody well talking about. He's actually done what every armchair edugob imagines they would, were they only able to stir themselves from the internet: he's taken a tough catchment and given them an education, and a better chance than they ever might have hoped. He mops up more slings and arrows than Saint Sebastian. The worst that people seem to be able to say about him is that his comments are 'unwise' and 'misjudged'. Considering that this is usually from people who haven't read what he said, but rely on the headlines, this is a bit ironic. And anyway, if that's the worst anyone could say about you, I reckon you could sleep easy. Most of what I say is quite spectacularly misjudged, which is exactly how I like it.

Comrade pupils! Today we work from books!
So why does Dame Wilshaw need us? Because I think there's something we can do. I'm often asked 'what can I do to make things better?' And it's a tough one, because teachers have creaked like galley slaves for decades under the bullshit of Ofsted's moronic belief that there is a perfect way to teach; that it can be observed by almost any hard-on with a clip board; that every lesson should contain certain key indicators of easily metrified data, etc. Make no mistake; this has soiled, spoiled and ruined teaching, and schools, for years. Teachers often no longer ask, 'How can I best teach these kids?' but now ask, 'What is the school looking for in a lesson?' And schools no longer ask 'What do the kids need to do really well?' but 'What are Ofsted looking for?'

To be fair, some schools make even more of this than they should, fetishising what they think Ofsted are looking for, and making a cargo cult of education: the Gods are angry, and there must be a sacrifice. Unfortunately, it's been all of us. And yet, the Gods are angry still, and the crops are still failing, or at least the kids often are.

He regretted asking the inspector for feedback.
The challenge for La Wilshaw is that he might think this, but there is an enormous machine that stretches out from underneath his wings: Ofsted itself. Nothing so bureaucratic and furious can be modified without taking the engine apart. Recruiting inspectors who actually know what good teaching is, is problem enough; training them to observe and assess others appropriately is another. Getting schools to understand that everyone teaches differently, and that it's OK for teachers to have their own styles and mannerisms, to be individual, to not fit the cookie cutter of the 'perfect Ofsted lesson' is yet another.

And that's where we come in. Read The Duke of Wilshaw's actual thoughts. Then go back into school tomorrow and think, 'What's the best way to teach these kids?' without thinking about Ofsted at all. If you're in a management position, do the same, and reframe the way you evaluate and assess teaching in your department areas. Don't observe lessons with a checklist; go in with your eyes open and judge it like a teacher. Are the kids learning? Are they safe? We need to get back into the habit of teaching to the best of our abilities, and then expecting- demanding- Ofsted to record this. If someone comes into your classroom, ask them to justify their assessment.

Is this you?
That's their job. Ours is to teach, and if you needed permission to do so- and you don't- then the burra wallah of HMI has given it. Our duty now is to respond to that. Drive the change in our own schools, not wait for a desk jockey to tell us it's ok.

Maybe it's time we stopped waiting for people to fix things for us. Maybe it's time we started to fix things, one class at at time, for ourselves. Who knows? You could even apply to be an inspector.


  1. Well said Tom! I just hope more people start to listen.

  2. I was made to teach like my (so-called) mentor last year on a placement and I fully resent them for it - the classes never actually got to know me and behaviour management was so difficult! The freedom to teach in my own style in my current placement is so refreshing; it's amazing how much I've improved in the last 5 weeks compared to last year.

  3. Awesome. Positive, hilarious (in a good way) and challenging.

  4. Interesting comments from Willshaw. Is it aimed at his inspectors? The latest measure I've heard is that lessons are to be judged on 20/80 mix which you easily work out. Are the OFSTED numpties going to be sitting there with a stop watch ticking off your lesson? Or as Willshaw indicates actually looking for learning take place however you teach. I suspect that in practice the inspectors want a rigid format to stick to. As most of them seem failed teachers is it surprising?
    Maybe the only answer is hat we should all have to be OFSTED inspectors, a bit like jury service?

  5. Hi Tom,

    Can you recommend an easily digestible piece of Wilshaw that I can read? My school insists that all lessons should be 80% student led, should contain group work and peer and self assessment, use a dozen AfL strategies etc. etc. I assumed this was coming from Ofsted - is it not?

    Thanks as ever for your refreshing views!

  6. Great news! Reading this just reminded me of the irony of the same people who tell us to move away from the tyranny of didactic teaching often being the same people who stand up and say 'Right, listen and write this down, this is EXACTLY what needs to be in your lessons. All of them.'
    Great cartoon of the inspector's feedback, you must have an archive of apt and funny pictures.

  7. We had a guest lecturer as part of our Grad Dip Ed (equivalent of PGCE) course. She was telling us that her school took an approach to primary integrated curriculum that used drama and immersive narrative - it was all pretty awesome and she was very inspiring. At the end, she pointed out that her methods had been honed over 30 years of teaching and that we would all have our own style. She told us "I'd much rather have a really good 'chalk and talk teacher' for my child than someone who uses so-called innovative methods, but doesn't have strong subject knowledge". Man, I almost cried. It was just what I needed to hear after sitting through all the lectures on Multiple Intelligences, Habits of Mind and Thinking Hats.

    By the way, we don't have an equivalent to Ofsted here in Australia - long may it remain so!

  8. Is there too much fear to act upon these wishes? My mngmt appear to be really rattled by the new framework as they became masters of ticking the correct boxes before. Let's hope we actually get the right focus and some realism too. The problem inevitably will come done to the issue of 'evidence'.


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