Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Ofsted head backing local networks

Sir Michael Wilshaw said the job of identifying failing schools should not fall on his shoulders alone

A network of local commissioners should be created to spot problems with failing schools and dismiss incompetent head teachers, England's new chief education inspector has said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the incoming head of Ofsted, told The Times that the job of identifying failing schools should not fall on his shoulders alone as more schools become independent academies under the Government's education reforms.

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

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

He called on ministers to appoint dozens of local commissioners to decide whether to close or merge academies or replace head teachers or governing bodies where standards were unacceptably low.

He said: "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."

On dress code, he said: "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."

Stephen Twigg, Labour's Shadow Education Secretary, said his party would give "serious consideration" to the idea of commissioners. He said: "As part of Labour's policy review we will give serious consideration to Sir Michael's suggestion. 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. There needs to be strong evidence that these plans would work in the UK. They deserve a fair hearing but ministers should come to Parliament and explain them."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We welcome Sir Michael Wilshaw's thoughts on how we can continue to drive up standards in schools. We have already established the Office of the Schools Commissioner and will 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."