Sir Michael Wilshaw's 10 last questions

Wilshaw
Image caption Sir Michael Wilshaw has been a controversial head of the education watchdog

When Sir Michael Wilshaw steps down this week as head of Ofsted, it will see the departure of English education's most dominant figure.

Outspoken and influential, this former London head teacher, who will be succeeded by Amanda Spielman, often set the agenda more than education secretaries.

He was always ready to speak his mind - and it meant some fierce criticism.

"Was it tough? Yes, it was very tough," he says, looking back at the highs and lows of his time in office.

1. Most important change: Scrapping 'satisfactory'

In what was a highly contested move, Sir Michael scrapped the "satisfactory" grade and replaced it with "requires improvement".

Image caption Sir Michael says his toughest times came from political intrigues against him

"Satisfactory" was no longer satisfactory and schools were given a deadline to improve - and Sir Michael said this was a really significant statement of intent.

"That enormously challenged the system to do better. I remember the furore it created - head teachers' associations were up in arms, there was letter after letter, they'd never been under so much pressure, did I know what I was doing?

"I stuck to my guns and no-one now would want to go back."

2. Toughest time: Being briefed against during Michael Gove's time as education secretary

In January 2014, he made front page news as he went on the attack against what he thought were attempts to discredit Ofsted.

"I didn't mind having a robust argument with people in the Department [for Education] about Ofsted, but I wasn't going to be briefed against," by what he called "nasty and unprofessional" people.

"I made that clear to Michael [Gove] himself - and I just was not going to have that, leaking to the press what they thought about Ofsted. I just wasn't going to have it.

"I was extremely angry. That first year at Ofsted was incredibly pressurised."

"Sources close to Mr Gove" rejected any involvement.

This bruising experience turned out to be something of a new lease of life, he says.

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Image caption Left the stage: Gove, Cameron and Wilshaw once shaped education policy

It established very publicly that Ofsted was independent and that its chief inspector "wasn't going to be mucked about".

"If we're going to make a difference we've got to be independent. We've got to be left alone.

"If he had confidence in me, he should have left me alone to do the job properly. I wasn't going to have briefings making my life even more difficult."

3. Best education secretary: Michael Gove

"Despite the fact that I clashed with Michael Gove, he was on the right track. He thought deeply about it. He brought energy and vitality."

Even though Mr Gove was unpopular with teachers, Sir Michael says that in the long-term he will be seen as a success.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Ofsted chief faced criticism from teachers' unions

"They might not have liked him, but they will remember him. History will say he was a very transformative and radical secretary of state."

Sir Michael also commends David Blunkett and Estelle Morris.

4. Biggest policy flop: Education action zones

Introduced after Labour's landslide victory in 1997, these were a high-profile attempt to breathe innovation and new life into the most deprived areas.

But Sir Michael says the reality was "layer upon layer of bureaucracy" and endless meetings of different agencies, while skirting round the real problems.

His current worry is that expanding grammars will "fragment" the school system.

5. The knighthood? 'I thought it was a prank'

Back in 1999, it was still very unusual for school leaders to get knighthoods.

"When the letter came through the door I was shocked

"I thought someone was playing a prank on me. I held up the letter to the light to see if it was a forgery of some sort. And then when I got into school I phoned up No 10."

They confirmed it was real and he was among the first waves of education knighthoods.

6. Most annoying: 'How long have you got?'

Juvenile think-tankers, fresh from university with lots of plans and no experience of putting things into practice are not going to be top of the Wilshaw Christmas card list.

Image caption Wilshaw was one of the first head teachers to be knighted during the Blair years

They contribute to policies that are "confused and ill-thought through".

He is also not keen on the style of TV adverts for teaching.

"We sell teaching so badly, those soppy adverts with teachers messing about with test tubes."

7: Politicians - good or bad for education?

"Without political will nothing much happens," he says.

"Standards are infinitely better than in the 70s, 80s and 90s - and that's partly because of the interest of prime ministers and very powerful secretaries of state for education."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Michael Wilshaw says heads need to be powerful figures

He commends Tony Blair for recognising "that if we wanted a better society and a stronger economy, we needed a stronger education system".

But the downside is political grandstanding.

"What teachers get fed up about are politicians coming in and wanting to stamp their authority by issuing idiotic circulars which make little or no difference.

"Too much change is as bad as not enough."

8. 'Anti-school culture'

Sir Michael has warned of white working class youngsters failing in school.

And on his "unfinished business" list would be "big pockets of underachievement" in secondary schools in the north of England.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Parents need a tough message to support children, says Sir Michael

But he has a tough message for communities with an "anti-school culture".

If there is going to be a big investment in schools and staffing, he says parents have to play their part.

"You'd better turn up to the parents' evening, you'd better make sure your kids do their homework, you'd better support the school by making sure they wear the uniform.

"We need to be much tougher on those communities - I would fine parents."

9. Name-calling

Sir Michael has attracted the wrath of teachers over the years.

A particular highlight of the name-calling, he says, was being told he was "the most despised man in education".

But such run-ins made him "battle-hardened" and he says school leaders need to be tough and ready to lead from the front.

Image copyright PA

10. And finally

As he retires, it's the status of teaching and its capacity to change lives that still seems most important.

His heroes were inspirational head teachers - whose influence "ran through the school like a stick of rock".

"Teaching is such an honourable profession."

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