There was a time when Ofsted commanded respect. Then along came Michael Gove and turned Ofsted into something that is simultaneously terrifying and utterly ridiculous. Imagine, if you will, Herr Flick in `Allo `Allo. That’s Gove`s Ofsted.
There was a time when any Ofsted inspector worth their salt could identify a failing school from the far side of the playground in thick fog. Similarly, even a half decent HMI can recognise the aroma of a successful school in corridors permeated by the smell of polish, stewed cabbage and boys. That expertise may still exist, but under Michael Gove, Ofsted inspections of schools have become a blunt, crude and rather nasty instrument that is being employed to destroy state education.
Forget the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future and forget Gove`s astonishing decision to write a foreword to the bible. Forget too his suggestion that the tax payer should buy the richest woman in the world a yacht to take her mind off the anniversary of her father’s death. Instead, let us look at what he has done to Ofsted.
The criteria used in the Ofsted Inspection Framework have been reduced from 19 to four and the emphasis is now on “attainment” rather the “achievement”. On paper, the removal of the bureaucracy of all those pesky criteria might seem like a good idea and ministers at the Department of Education continue to bray about the cutting of needless red tape such as CRB checks, accident books and the requirement to log incidents of bullying, racism, sexism and homophobia. “Attainment” means some arbitrary targets designed to harm children.
Add to this heady mix of dogma and total ignorance of education the appointment of the new head of Ofsted. Step forward Sir Michael Wilshaw, the latest defender of children and young people. Many people will have never heard of Sir Michael Wilshaw so it was important for him to make an early impression. With all the subtlety of Eric Pickles in a pie shop, Sir Michael announced the scrapping of the “Satisfactory” Ofsted judgement which will be replaced with “Requires Improvement”. For good measure, the new head of the Gestapo has decreed that schools formerly judged as “Outstanding” should be inspected again and, if necessary, downgraded.
Now, Sir Michael receives an awful lot of money for doing the coalition government’s dirty work and Ofsted Inspectors are paid very handsomely for terrorising schools, but the real reason behind this night of the long knives is Gove`s failing Academies programme. It might be sensible to take a look at the CV of Sir Michael Wilshaw.
He was knighted for his service to education during his time as Headteacher of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, one of London’s most deprived boroughs. He introduced a regime of strict discipline, detention and exclusion. He demanded that children chant before each lesson: “I aspire to maintain an inquiring mind, a calm disposition and an attentive ear so that in this class and in all classes I can fulfil my true potential.” Many parents removed their children from the school because of it’s repressive authoritarianism.
At the time, Sir Michael was quoted as saying: “I have an evangelical zeal to do Christ’s work on earth. I want to do the sorts of things Christ asked us to do: doing your best for children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
His missionary work in Hackney bears a striking resemblance to that of Tory donor Robert, now Lord, Edmiston in Darlaston with his failing Grace Academy. The difference is that Sir Michael forced an improvement in GCSE results but did not help his students and alumni from finding a job and did not prevent them from taking to the streets of Tottenham in August 2011.
Prior to his appointment as head of Ofsted, Wilshaw was education director of Ark, a sponsor of academies set up by hedge fund managers as a tax dodge. The parallels with private health care companies writing huge chunks of the Health Bill and paying back handers to Andrew Lansley could not be clearer. It is, however, not clear how Wilshaw managed to run a school and work for hedge fund managers at the same time or if he is still receiving payments from Ark. His unshakable belief that forcing Academy status on schools is “Christ’s work” might raise a few eyebrows but why should he worry. “Christ’s work” is proving to be rather lucrative for Sir Michael.
His successful rod of iron at Mossbourne brought him to the attention of Michael Gove and the two now share a pew and a hymn sheet along with Lord Edmiston and others imposing their strange views in carrying out the will of God. Local Authority control of schools is clearly the work of the Devil and an unhealthy obsession with spurious data and spun statistics endowed with the infallibility of the Old Testament are employed to tell schools what is good for them.
It would be heretical to question the figures handed down on tablets of stone and Gove, being a vengeful God, will strike down any unbelievers who doubt his omnipotence. But, fighting fire with fire, it is worth digging into the hard data to see what improvement Academy status has made in schools.
In Community schools, the percentage of students making expected progress in English is 71 per cent. In Foundation schools the figure is 73 per cent and Voluntary Aided schools achieve 79 per cent. Nationally, Academies managed 65 per cent.
Five GCSE grades A* to C including Maths and English are the DfE`s preferred measure of concealing the true state of eduction and any school falling below the arbitrary 35 per cent figure is considered an abomination.
Community schools returned 56 per cent, Foundation schools 61 per cent and VA schools 67 per cent. So how did Academies do? A rather disappointing 47 per cent with a third of all Academies falling below Gove`s recently inflated 35 per cent target that triggers the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to charge into schools. So, using the DfE`s own data, in would appear that children in Academies do not do as well as children in other schools.
It is quite wrong to judge the Academies programme on the performance of a single school such as the “success” at Mossbourne in Hackney. For every knighthood and high profile promotion, there is a story of failure. Consider St Aldhelm`s Academy in Poole in Dorset. Prior to being forced into Academy conversion, GCSE A* to C grades stood at a dismal 17 per cent. Now, a three per cent score leaves that sorry school as officially the “worst” school in the country. God might forgive them but Gove won’t.
And what of the schools who attempt to resist the bullying of Gove and Wilshaw? Consider the fate of Downhills Primary School in Tottenham, just a blackboard duster’s throw from Wilshaw`s holy sepulchre. The Headteacher, the staff, the parents, the governors and the children did not want to be forced into becoming an Academy, preferring local accountability over the increasing megalomania of Michael Gove. Governors sought legal advice suggesting that their imminent removal was unlawful. Schools in Sandwell and other parts of the country will not need to be reminded that Michael Gove has some form when it comes to acting unlawfully.
Gove reacted swiftly by sending in a crack team of Wilshaw`s attack dogs who, in spite of evidence of a 40 per cent increase in standards in Maths and English, damned the school as inadequate and placed it in special measures. The Headteacher was forced to resign. Ofsted have now abandoned any pretence of a child centred agenda. They have become the boot boys that enforce Conservative dogma and the dismantling of education. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
The experience of the appropriately named Downhills school is not unique and is being repeated across the nation. For more information regarding Walsall, try contacting parent governors at Walsall Academy, Shelfield Academy, Darlaston Academy, Sneyd and Bluecoat. Ah, sorry. Under Gove, they don`t exist anymore. If you want to contact the governing body of any school, you had better be quick because local accountability is about to go the way of Adam and Eve. Do not dare to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge because you will be banished from the Eden that is Gove`s vision.
Gove, to be fair, does offer an alternative to Academies in the form of “Free Schools”. No finer example of extending parental choice can be found in Yorkshire at the proposed Rotherham Central Free School. Due to open in September, the school has no building, staff, pupil applications, prospectus or curriculum. It does, however, have a patron in the inspirational form of one of the Chuckle Brothers, an unsuccessful Tory parliamentary candidate called Charlotte Blencowe as principle and the full support of Michael Gove and the DfE. Ms Blencowe is the partner of the Chuckle Brother’s son.
With Herr Flick joining forces with the Chuckle Brothers, God must be having a right old laugh. Sadly, an abandoned generation are not allowed to be in on the joke.