Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Sir Michael Wilshaw, former Head of Ofsted

Sunday 26 May 2019


SOPHY RIDGE: Joining us now is someone who knows the education system very well, the former Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw. You also know Michael Gove pretty well don’t you?


SR: He was the Education Secretary when you were at Ofsted?


SR: Do you think he will be a good Prime Minister?

SIR MICHAEL WILSHAW: I think he would. He is very clear, Michael is very clear about what he wants, there is no [mystique] with him so the country would perfectly understand what he wanted and he would set out a very clear policy agenda. He sometimes makes the wrong decisions but we are all human beings and I’ve made bad decisions from time to time but he is prepared to listen.

SR: Okay, well I’m keen to talk about the issue that we got you here for. We just did a film on funding in schools and we hear very different things coming from teachers and coming from politicians, who is right? Do schools have enough money?

SIR MICHAEL WILSHAW: No, they don’t. No, they don’t. I know what it’s like to be a head teacher in east London when there was money and I could raise standards because I did have money but since I left office, I have been in a number of schools up and down the country, particularly in the north of England, and they are struggling for funding, there is no question about that and it’s sad to see. It is very worrying that the great progress that we made in schools and the educational standards over the last 20, 30 years, standards had improved remarkably and it’s worrying that there could be a slowdown.

SR: So you think that’s under threat then?

SIR MICHAEL WILSHAW: It is under threat that standards could fall and fall particularly in those parts of the country that I was worried about when I was Chief Inspector, areas of great disadvantage which need money more than those areas where there is less disadvantage and it is particularly worrying in schools with high numbers of special needs children, as you’ve just shown.

SR: Do you think the government is being misleading when it says there are record levels of funding in our schools?

SIR MICHAEL WILSHAW: Yes and as that Head Teacher rightly pointed out, there are many more children in our schools now than there were a few years ago, national insurance contributions, pension contributions at schools have also gone up and the big challenge for our system at the moment is that we have not got enough teachers and good leaders in our schools. Talk to head teachers, as I do all the time, and they will say funding is an issue and it is particularly an issue when they can’t attract good enough people into our schools to raise standards and unless we can do that and pay teachers enough money to come into the profession and stay in the profession – and retention is probably the more important than recruitment – then we’ll see a decline in standards.

SR: Do you think the standards in our schools are mediocre?

SIR MICHAEL WILSHAW: Well they are better now, as I said, than they were when I started teaching back in the dark ages but they’re better now. The big challenge for our country is huge regional performance and I’ve constantly banged on about standards in the north of England and in some parts of the Midlands. [Inaudible] performance in particular is not good enough in the north. When I say in my last year as Chief Inspector not one youngster on free school meals got into Oxbridge from the whole of the north-east of England, Yorkshire and Humberside and in that same region, three times less children go to university than they do in the south. Now that’s not good enough.

SR: What’s the problem? You have spoken before haven’t you, you haven’t minced your words when it comes to teachers and when it comes to parents as well, do you think they have to shoulder the responsibility?

SIR MICHAEL WILSHAW: Well leadership is critical. You can get good teachers in schools but unless they are led well and you have a strong head teacher in the school, then it won’t go well and it is really sad that we are not doing enough to nurture our future leaders in this country. The National College of School Leadership has closed down some years ago, nothing has really replaced it and in the worst schools that we’ve seen in the country we’ve seen poor leadership but parents have got a part to play. Why is it that London does very well in all the metrics, why? Because all of our immigrant families in our capital city have parents who value education, support education and are ambitious for their children. Why do we see youngsters from white British working class families doing badly? Often it’s because their parents don’t support them in the way that our immigrant families do.

SR: Is there anything we can do about this?

SIR MICHAEL WILSHAW: Well great schools are in loco parentis and act as surrogate parents and do their best but families are the great educators. You and I are what we are because of the families we came from and the love and the care and the support they gave us, actually. If parents don’t care and don’t support, then schools struggle. I have said some tough things about parenting and we should be tough on parents who don’t support their schools and in some instances are abusive to teachers and head teachers.

SR: Talking about ambitious parents, do you think it’s annoying when wealthier parents move into the catchment area of a good school?

SIR MICHAEL WILSHAW: Well parents do that, they buy house or rent houses and all the rest of it. Parents want the best for their children, you can’t stop that happening, you can’t legislate against it but what we need to do in the country is ensure that every school is a good school, every school is an outstanding school, so that the choice becomes that much greater for parents.

SR: And just finally, while we’ve got you, the whole point of this series is to try and shine a light on issues that are perhaps falling down the political agenda because of Brexit, because of the leadership contest, are you worried that that’s happening to education?

SIR MICHAEL WILSHAW: Yes and what we need is an Education Secretary, I’m sure we have one in Damian, who is going to fight the corner. The autumn statement will be critical, the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget will be absolutely critical and every head teacher in the country will be looking very closely at that and I’m sure Damian Hinds will be fighting the education corner very vociferously to ensure some of the issues you have just been talking about are addressed by the government because, as I said, the huge progress that we’ve made – and there’s a lot more to do in the country, regional performance etc – that huge progress is in danger of falling back unless the funding goes into schools.

SR: Okay, thank you very much for coming on to the programme today.

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