With utter predictability, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the man with the most self-aggrandising title in education, has just had a promotion. The “Founding Principal” of the politicians’ favourite school, Mossbourne Academy, and poster boy of the government’s blazers-for-all approach to education now has an even grander job title : Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools. He thereby becomes Head of inspection body Ofsted. But watch out any lily-livered folk at Ofsted who might be wondering if the new man will stroll into the saloon bar and sit down for a bit of a pow-wow. This is how Cowboy Mike’s described his approach to leadership and involvement in the TES this time last year:
A head teacher is all about being a lone warrior, fighting for righteousness, fighting the good fight, as powerful as any chief executive. I am not that bothered about distributed leadership; I would never use it; I don’t think Clint would either. We need head teachers with ego.
Did he say Clint??
On their high horses with their ears to the ground
Before he had hung up his hat, let along put down his gun, he announced that he wanted to see a network of “Local School Commissioners” whose job will be to keep an eye on schools in their area and flag up problems. All the Sheriff’s Men. I think he and Michael Gove have just realised it is going to be quite tricky to oversee 24,000 quasi autonomous schools directly from Whitehall. Watch him think on his feet:
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. 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.
Apart from offering a rather unexpected view of the merits and effectiveness the inspection regime, what does this tell us about how he sees these new commissioners? It is easy to say they will be “non-political” but much harder to work out what (or who) this means in practice. Commissioners will not be responsible to the Council but will be appointed by, and report directly to, the Secretary of State. How exactly will that ensure independence and a lack of political bias? Interestingly these guys seem to be quite a different animal from the proposed Police and Crime Commissioners who will at least be locally elected before they get their hands on terrifying amounts of money and the power.
The election of Police and Crime Commissioners is at the heart of the Governments’s plan to cut crime. They will reconnect the public and police, and allow us to replace bureaucratic accountability to Whitehall with democratic accountability to local communities.
Founding Principles of Public Accountability?
Maybe it is just me but I am getting increasingly confused about what this government means when it talks about public accountability in public services. If elected local government is to have a role in the delivery of health and social care services (well the rhetoric is there even if the reality is sinking fast in the deadly morass that goes by the name of public accountability in the Health and Social Care Bill) and if police commissioners are at least going to be elected before being given unprecendented powers, why is education being dragged in the opposite direction? School governors (including elected parents) and local authority education departments answerable to elected councils have been doing this stuff for years. Sure, they could undoubtedly have done it better and it would certainly have helped if they or anyone else had ever managed to work out how to make school governance work properly. But taking all the power and influence out of their hands and putting it into the hands of a Magnificent Few surely takes us further away from proper accountability, not closer.
Heroes don’t need to talk – or listen
Independent think-tank IPPR thinks it understands what school commissioners should be doing. They are appear to be worried about local accountability in schools and their description of the role of commissioners seems to suggest that they will help to make schools more accountable to the communities they serve:
Schools commissioners would not be involved in managing schools, but instead act as local champions for standards, monitoring the performance of all schools in their areas, whether academies, free schools or local authority schools, and intervening where schools were failing or coasting. In this way, they would be more visible champions of standards for local parents.
So when The Two Mikes and their gang ride into town and they want to know what’s been going on, who will they call around the table to make sure they really are acting as “local champions”? How will they make sure their ears are very close to the ground? Who will they talk to? Governors? Parents? Students? Apparently not. Look carefully at the wording above: “visible champions of standards for local parents”. This does not mean listening to parents. It does not mean championing the views of parents. This means localised champions of the centralised standards agenda. They are doing what needs to be done, “for local parents” not with them, or in response to them. This means a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do and the townsfolk better be darn grateful. Sir Michael knows how it should be done:
The job of the commissioner would be to meet the managing directors, the chief executives of those clusters, report to him or her on the performance of the group. And the commissioner would then make a judgment on whether a school needs to be improved, report to the secretary of state and then bring in other agencies to improve those schools or not.
There sure ain’t much room for public involvement there. Not even the Head Teachers get a look in.
Get off your horse and drink your milk
There is nothing here nor in any of the statements from the Department, the Founding Principal or IPPR that even vaguely begins to explain HOW an unelected local schools commissioner would have a clue about parental views or experiences. In fact given Sir Michael’s lone ranger stance it is not surprising he shows no interest in what anyone else thinks. All the education system in England and Wales needs is a few hundred good men and true, cloned from the combined DNA of Gove and Wilshaw who know What Works. No worries about messy distributed leadership here.
The Moore Adamson Craig Partnership supports user and public participation, trains lay representatives and develops responsive public service organisations including schools. We can help you set up a Parent Council and advise local authorities and governing bodies on how to involve parents and carers. Feel free to contact us to discuss any ideas you have.
For ten top tips on how to involve parents in school, take a look at A Short Guide to School-Parent Partnerships co-written by MAC partner, Caroline Millar, for the Family and Parenting Institute. Contact us for a free copy.