Before you get into the Sunday papers. Before your hackles rise. Before another precious weekend is spoilt by what you read about Sir Michael Wilshaw’s latest comments about education – read the transcript below. What he may have said in fringe meetings at the London Festival of Education yesterday, I cannot say. What he may have said to reporters – again, I’m not aware of. But this is the closest transcript I can produce of what he actually said to delegates in his main speech. And it is very grounded, sensible and supportive to all who are trying to take education forward. I learnt, some weeks ago, from @oldandrew that you can’t always take the media’s slant on what Sir Michael says as gospel; it’s usually best to go to source material. For this speech – very grateful to the recording made by @kevbartle and to which you can listen for yourself here
If I have made any errors in the transcript – my apologies. But I think it is maybe closer to what Sir Michael Wilshaw intended than some reports suggest.
Speech by Sir Michael Wilshaw at the London Festival of Education : 17th November 2012
Well it’s great to be invited here to discuss (indistinct) for the first time invited by the institute and (indistinct) to hear it has gone extremely well. I’m also pleased to be here because I am, or was, a London teacher, teaching here for forty years as you know; teaching for over forty years both north and south London before I got this really easy job as a Chief Inspector at Ofsted and I thoroughly enjoyed my life as a teacher and as a head. And if somebody had said to me way back in the sixties and seventies, when I started teaching, that London would be achieving what it is achieving now, I wouldn’t have believed them. And I think there are two messages behind that: one is – that if somebody ever says, and it will be said up and down the country, ‘this can’t be done here; it’s impossible to achieve with these sorts of children or with the political difficulties as such here’ – don’t believe them. Because it can happen. Because those same sorts of things were said about London when I started teaching. They were said about Hackney, and I moved there ten, eleven years ago: it can be done. And that is why it’s so important that people are optimistic about the future of our education service and are determined to do what is being done day-in and day-out in London.
And the second message I’ve got is that if we’re going to move towards a world class education system, and that’s what everyone in this room here wants, then we’ve got to make sure that what’s happening in London is repeated elsewhere and there isn’t such a great variation in different parts of the country, which is staggering and which other countries are dealing with much better than we are. Chris mentioned the annual report which is coming out in ten day; obviously I can’t reveal the details of that, but it will have a much more regional focus than ever before. And I do urge you to read it; take it to your bed and take it for bed-time reading; look at the web-tool – there’s going to be a very sophisticated web-tool attached to the report this time around, where you can see what’s happening in different parts of the country and draw the comparison between London and other parts of the country.
It’s happened here, in London, because of good teachers and good teaching. That’s what’s happened: good teachers; good teaching, led by good people. And there are lots of things I could say about teaching, and the quality of teaching, but I just want to focus on one and draw some conclusions from it. And that is that good teaching is inextricably linked with good leadership; good teaching is linked to good leadership. I’ve rarely been into a school where leadership is lousy and seen people working collectively together. I want to give you a small sort of anecdote from my own experience on this where a dozen or so years ago I was seconded to a special measures school; a very bad and failing school in east London. And before I went in the DCS at the time (indistinct) …. you need to know this is a very, very bad and failing school, everything is going wrong that you can possibly imagine. Everything that can go wrong is going wrong in this school. We’re really worried about it and in fact we’re thinking of closing it. So armed with that information I went to visit the school, see it for the very first time, met – as usual – by the caretaker – you know the sort of caretaker that you and I have met, you know, saying ‘What on earth are you doing here, mate. This is just too tough to turn round’. That sort of negativity that I’ve just mentioned ‘Even the Alsatians go round in pairs here, you know. Think about it.’ Anyway, when I started there, expecting the worst I was pleasantly surprised – it wasn’t as bad as it was painted. There were a significant number of teachers, in fact, most of the teachers, there were a few that weren’t, but most of the teachers were incredibly committed to the children at that school; they arrived at the school early, left late and were doing their very, very best. The problem was, wasn’t one of those teachers, but it was leadership. Leadership in that school, and not just the head, weren’t pulling things together weren’t recognizing what was happening in the school; didn’t identify those really good staff; didn’t support them and didn’t, certainly, promote them in a way that they should have been. And they allowed, because the culture was so rotten in the school, a small number of really challenging children, very badly behaved children, to rule the roost. Consequently those on the margins, those that were pulled into the bad behaviour to be disruptive in class and to be rude and abusive to teachers, were being pulled in – who normally wouldn’t be pulled in. So the culture was wrong. And the culture was wrong because the leaders did not lead on culture. And that’s at the heart of what I’m going to say. Which is that you can’t divorce teaching from the culture of the school and the culture is determined by leadership. The best leaders – and I hope lots of people, good teachers and outstanding teachers in this room want to be leaders of our schools – the best leaders understand that you can only improve teaching if you combine a strong vision of what you want to see in the classroom with a common sense and pragmatic approach to school organisation. In other words, no amount of abstract theorising on pedagogy and the importance of teaching will count for much unless leaders focus on what’s necessary to create the conditions in which great teaching can take place. They must ensure that schools are orderly places, where children respect each other and the authority of staff. Places where newly qualified teachers and those in the early years of the profession feel protected, nurtured and encouraged to remain in teaching. If schools do not have professional tutors, they should get them. I’m always amazed when I go into schools, particularly secondary schools, and ask the qualified teaches who’s the person looking after you on a daily basis – that person needs to be easily identified. Places where the average teacher, not necessarily the outstanding high-performer, can do reasonably well. Places where there is sufficient attention to policy and procedure and detail so that everyone understands how the school works. And places where communication to everyone, including people who work in the kitchens, is good and they feel valued and that they feel part of the school. Good leaders running good schools understand all this, and there are many of them in London. They know that getting all those things right matter, so that they can focus on the most important task of any leader, which is leading on teaching and learning. Good leaders are passionate about the quality of teaching because they know it is an absolute pre-requisite to raising standards. They demonstrate this passion in their own classroom practice if they happen to teach; in the power of their assemblies when they are on show in front of the whole school community. The best heads that I…well I’ve been fortunate to work with lots of good heads, took assemblies…. really, really importantly. They saw it as an important part of the school day and if they were taking assembly they’d put a lot of time and effort into it because they were on show to the rest of the school community. A chance to show to the children and to the staff that they were good teachers as well. And in their commitment to professional development. Not just to one or two training days in the year, but consistently throughout the teaching week and the year.
Good leaders foster an open door policy where teachers are comfortable to be observed and observing others. Where good practice is discussed and disseminated, and where performance management is seen as a positive – as a positive – rather than as a negative. Good leaders recognise and reward good teaching. They celebrate it at every turn, and promote those who model good practice, no matter how young they are. This isn’t about long-service; this is about recognising good people and promoting them in the school to be seen as role-models for the rest.
These are also leaders who do not shy away from challenging under-performance in the classroom. We know what the research says. I’m sure you have heard about this today on the progress levels of children taught by a good teacher as opposed to a poor one. The difference is equivalent to a whole year’s learning. We know what the Sutton Trust says about the impact it would have on our international league position if the ten per cent of the lowest performing teachers were brought up to the average.
Our new inspection framework recognises the importance of leadership in teaching. And that is why inspectors will comment in every report – and I will throw it back if I don’t see it – a comment in every report on whether the leaders have a sense what is going on in the classroom and whether they are taking professional development and performance of management as seriously as they should. As you know, inspectors will be scrutinising less paper-work and spending much more time in lessons than ever before. But they will do so without having a pre-conceived view of what makes for a good lesson. Let me emphasize again, for anyone who hasn’t heard this from me, or anyone else from Ofsted, Ofsted does not have a preferred style of teaching – does not have a preferred style of teaching. Inspectors will simply judge teaching simply on whether children are engaged, focused, learning and making progress. And in the best and most outstanding lessons, being inspired by the person in front of them. We don’t want to see lessons that are too crowded, too frenetic and with too many activities designed simply to impress the inspectors. And if that’s happened in the past it’s wrong. We simply want to see teaching that embeds learning. Ultimately that is what matters. Indeed our recent ‘Moving English Forward’ report found a disturbing lack of extended reading and writing in English lessons because too many teachers thought they had to plan lessons that focused on activity rather than learning. So teachers are going through, with their class, a Shakespeare text, that’s absolutely fine; if they do nothing else – that’s fine. If a teacher on a wet Friday afternoon, doing a fairly boring lesson on quadratic equations – but the children are learning – that’s fine as well. But, let me be very clear, our judgement of teaching will be predicated…(sorry to maths teachers there)… so let me be very clear, our judgement of teaching will be predicated on the quality of learning and the progress that students are making. I want to emphasize this, because too often I hear Ofsted adopts a tick-box, formulaic approach to lesson observation. If this has been the case before, it certainly won’t be now. Good leaders recognise that while the different methods and orthodoxies slip in and out of fashion, the qualities that help and make excellent teachers never change; they are timeless and universal and you will recognise the most important ones: an understanding that planning is important for good lessons only as a framework in which the teacher can adapt to the changing dynamics of the classroom and the different needs of the children; the ability to reflect and critically evaluate performance at the end of a lesson and at the end of the school day; the ability to differentiate teaching styles and resources for children’s different aptitudes and abilities; the capacity – no matter how long in teaching – to learn from others and be receptive to advice and training. And above all, an unyielding commitment – an unyielding commitment – to help every child to achieve their full potential. I’m sure all you here recognise those qualities and can think of many more. Ofsted will certainly recognise and give credit to staff who demonstrated these qualities when they’re observed during an inspection. Not all of them, but hopefully most of them.
As I’ve said many times, and as I say again today, teaching at its best is the most noble and honourable of professions. As chief inspector, I’m concerned that Ofsted recognises successful teaching and those leaders who make that teaching possible. I’m also determined that Ofsted should support those heads and leaders in schools that are less than good, particularly in this new category of ‘Requires Improvement’. Heads, who are doing their level best, in sometimes challenging circumstances, to move their school forward by focusing on what really matters. We will highlight, very clearly in our inspection reports on the first page – on the first page – and also in the section on leadership and management, that these leaders are doing a great job and that the future of the school looks much brighter because leadership is grasping the nettle. Inspectors will also be asking more searching questions of the governing boards of these school to ensure they understand the challenges that are facing the headteacher and that they are providing the right level of professional, personal and – often – emotional support.
Finally, I make no apologies for raising the bar by insisting that all school should be ‘Good’ schools. And that ‘Good’ is the only acceptable provision for our children and young people and learners of this country. That is what children deserve, that’s what parents want, and, of course, teachers want to work in good schools, or schools that have the ambition to be good. That’s what teachers want. We have a great chance of radically improving our school system because – and I’m sure if there are headteachers in this room now, they’ll agree with this – we have better people coming into teaching than ever before; that was always my experience over the last ten years. But the big challenge is to hold on to them. Retention is even more important that recruitment. That’s why it’s so important that teacher training institutions are good and we’ll be much more rigorous in our inspection framework of how good these places are. Assessments prove teaching is good, that partnership arrangements with schools are good. I’m not sure that they’ve been as good as they’ve sometimes been painted and we’ll be looking at that more carefully. And that trainees are placed in good schools for their teaching practice. And, most importantly, they get their first job in a good school, where they see good practice on a daily basis. Given the demographics of our profession, with roughly forty per cent of headteachers retiring in the next five years, it’s vitally important that these young, talented and committed people stay in teaching and move into leadership positions more quickly and do what I’ve just seen to be describing: creating good schools with the right culture that supports great teaching and learning.
Thank you very much.