Ofsted head calls for local school troubleshooters

Primary school classroom Sir Michael Wilshaw, the incoming head of Ofsted, has a reputation for enforcing strict discipline

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Local troubleshooters should be appointed to identify failing schools and sack incompetent heads, England's new chief education inspector has said.

Incoming Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said spotting failing schools should not be down to him alone.

And he told the Times newspaper more schools would become independent academies under government reforms.

The Department for Education said parents should play a bigger role on raising standards.

Sir Michael said that by the time Ofsted recognised a school as failing it was often too late, and that this created the need for local troubleshooters or school commissioners to identify problems early.

Local authorities already have a role in monitoring standards of the schools for which they are responsible, but academies are independent of local authorities and do not have the same degree of oversight.

The number of these schools has grown rapidly over the past year from from 203 in May 2010 to more than 1,000 in September 2011.

Start Quote

These people would be non-political, in other words they would not be like LEAs responsible to a council”

End Quote Sir Michael Wilshaw Incoming Ofsted chief

Sir Michael called on ministers to appoint dozens of these commissioners in local areas to decide whether to close or merge academies, or replace head teachers or governing bodies where standards were unacceptably low.

They could be modelled on commissioners which monitor school standards in the US, he said.

But under Sir Michael's ideas, they would be accountable to central government rather than to city mayors and local councils as they are in the US.

He told the Times: "These people would be non-political, in other words they would not be like LEAs responsible to a council... they would be people who would report directly to the secretary of state.

"I speak as someone who believes in autonomy and who believes in independence and as a great supporter of the academy programme, but we know there will be some academies that won't do well.

"It is no good just relying on Ofsted to give the judgment. By that time it is too late. We need some sort of intermediary bodies which can detect when things aren't going well, look at the data and have their ear very close to the ground to determine when there is a certain issue."


The notion of appointing local schools commissioners to oversee standards is one borrowed from the US, where some states use them to monitor school quality.

But it is the rapid expansion of the academy programme that makes it relevant to the English education system.

As each school converts to academy status, with all the freedoms that brings, they opt out of the watchful, monitoring eye of the local education authority.

This could leave academies sitting in a potential vacuum of local accountability - one that is particularly worrying if things start to go wrong.

The school commissioner model seeks to tackle this. Under this model, adapted by the Institute of Public Policy Research from the US system, high profile individuals are appointed by the local board or local authority to monitor school standards. Like so much to do with school improvement, they take a stick-and-carrot approach.

They offer support and advice to head teachers struggling to meet adequately the educational needs of their pupils. But if this approach does not have the required impact, school commissioners can then wield the stick, as they have the right to sack incompetent heads and even dissolve a school's governing body.

The IPPR model suggests the commissioners are appointed by local authorities, who have their duties on school standards boosted as a result.

But this government has not made a habit of increasing the powers of local councils.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that Sir Michael sees them reporting directly to Education Secretary Michael Gove - the man who asked him to be chief inspector of schools.

Sir Michael also said scruffy teachers could be rebuked by his organisation, saying school inspection reports should comment on the professional dress and behaviour of staff.

"If we turned up at the doctor's surgery or the lawyer's offices or a surgeon's consultation we would expect them to look professional, it's the same with teachers," he said.

Stephen Twigg, Labour's shadow education secretary, said his party would give "serious consideration" to the idea of commissioners, but there needed to be "strong evidence" the plans would work in the UK.

"We have been looking at the idea of local schools' commissioners to raise standards and deal with poorly performing schools, whilst protecting autonomy and local accountability," he said.

"But the Tory-led government must answer serious questions before bringing in any changes. Will the new posts be accountable to local parents and communities? Will the new superintendents be qualified professionals?

"What relationship will they have with local authorities? Will there be a rigorous process of appointment or will the new jobs be given to favoured sons who simply fit with the Tories' out of touch and out of date ideology?"

A Department for Education spokesman said the government had already established the Office of the Schools Commissioner and would take action to deal with any failing school or academy.

"We have also published more information than ever before about how schools are performing, including their spending and results, so they can be held to account and parents really know what is going on in schools, including academies," he added.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank has backed the idea of schools commissioners.

IPPR associate director for public service reform, Rick Muir, told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "Because we now have all of these academies and free schools, with autonomies that the IPPR welcome, we have a highly centralised system of school accountability.

"We have no one in the system who can hold academies to account if they're failing or struggling, apart from the secretary of state for education."

But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "I find this proposal absolutely extraordinary because what it's representing is a complete U-turn for the government.

"What it's saying is the academy system is not working and we need to go back to something like local authorities. It sounds to me like a system of chief education officers."

The new chief inspector for Ofsted will take up his post in January. Sir Michael was until recently the head of Mossbourne Academy in east London.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Precisely! a recipe for disaster
    do we need someone else to give yet another interpretation of how/why a school is performing?
    who will resolve differences of opinion between Ofsted and the Commissioners?
    more jobs for the boys, by the look of it

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    @marie hah yes I got a little sarcastic with that comment, but agree with you that a well tied together curriculum which teaches all sorts of things is preferable to fixating on a few things. Personally I feel that we desperately need to teach Politics, IT (programming), Economics and Sociology to ALL our children, these are the core subjects of the internet age imho.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    ilovedakins Personally, I think a rounded curriculum is great. I love it when my kids have been learning about Charles Darwin or Florence Nightingale at school & come home fired up with interest & wanting to talk about what they've learned - & find out more. A good school will do this aswell as helping them learn the English & Maths they need. I also know as a parent, my support is vital.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    I have a laugh now at some of the excuses that myself and my kids would come up with when doing homework "but honest i was'nt shown how to do it" or "we have'nt done that yet" which really just means we were not listening properly and thats why we made up the excuses
    But i must admit i feel for the teachers that have their hands tied regarding proper discipline at schools nowadays which is a joke

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    @ sea wolf editors pick

    Of course studying other things doesn't promote reading writing and math at all does it? Why don't we have just three subjects called reading writing and maths? That will produce well rounded insightful youths capable of engaging with challenges in the world around them I'm certain. We should not be dumbing down the curriculum as you suggest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    134. 1plus2


    The use of correct grammar plus a few capital letters here and there is generally thought to be quite useful too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    I can never remember my mother or father spending more than 2 mins helping me with my homework but what i can remember is if i got any of it wrong they would make sure i knew about it and made me correct it on my own
    My spelling though was excellent but i struggled with maths and my maths teacher knew this and basically just gave up which was fine with me at the time but probably not a good thing

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    A a parent I'm amazed computing is taught from aged 4yrs. My 7 yr old (under supervision) has taught me to import family photos as screen savers & set up an account for her brother 'for when he's big'. Yet I limit her usage substantially as I know she needs to have the basics of reading & writing first.She'd spend a lot more time on the computer if I'd let her but I know it isn't appropriate yet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    The first thing I would do is scrap OFSTED. In my experience all they have done is driven out the good teachers. OFSTED are no different from the ISO9000 lot in UK industry. They just add cost with no benefit. OFSTED is just another empire for the incompetent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Sir Michael called on ministers to appoint dozens of commissioners in local areas to decide whether to close or merge academies, or replace head teachers or governing bodies where standards were unacceptably low. They could be modelled on commissioners which monitor school standards in the US. Is the United States such an example of exemplary education? When did this happen?

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    The whole system needs a shake up from the top down. I'm getting a bit fed up with 'we do a wonderful job' mantra, so do lots of other people, get over yourselves. The next is dress and behaviour, of the teachers, they are not the childrens 'mate' and they need to dress like they mean business and on no account be on the first name terms with pupils. Its called a 'profession', time to act like it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    There's a good point which others have raised that as a parent it's ultimately YOUR responsibility to ensure YOUR child can at least do the basics expected of them while attending school(& ideally so much more).Teachers can flag up areas of concern but you should be listening to your child read, overseeing their writing & getting them to do basic sum; so should help sort any problems that crop up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    1 Minute Ago
    Nowadays, young people learn too many things that are untrue rote (rot?) e.g. Columbus discovered America! They likely spend more time Facebooking & twittering than studying/learning.

    Did the original inhabitants not already know that that land existed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    What are HEADMASTERS for please?

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Children under the age of 16 should not be using facebook anyway. Your child your responsibility to check that they can spell properly. May be parents allowing their children on socal networking sites is part of the problem also.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Personally, I don't care how teachers dress - casual is fine.
    Personally, I care more about what is taught in schools, & it's NOT teaching young people how to think for themselves, debate, & become good citizens.
    Nowadays, young people learn too many things that are untrue rote (rot?) e.g. Columbus discovered America! They likely spend more time Facebooking & twittering than studying/learning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    If you really want to improve school/pupil performance, rather than enhance it cosmetically, stop the ludicrous habit of prior notice for Ofsted inspections. Better yet, plant some support staff *moles* at underperforming schools. Discover what some already know: how many incompetent teachers are puttings the future of kids at risk & how many incompetent Heads are protecting them by subterfuge

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Why are we trying to follow American systems when their Public School system is failing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    129 Nicely put ship-of-fools. The government also use scapegoating of others as an excuse to whisk in some of their own hidden agendas & badly thought through policy making, by the back door. When that fails, it's always someone elses fault...
    134 I agree about spelling, also I've witnessed basic mental arithmetic is too often lacking in the young.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Its your child and your responsability to ensure they can read and write and add up etc. If at 16 they cant do these things then you as a parent have failed at least in this aspect of their education. You can blame the schools and you maybe right but ultimately the buck stops with you.As for inspection maybe we should start with the parents to see if they are fit to have kids in the first place.


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