Sir Michael Wilshaw’s savage attack on the failure of the school system, and especially secondary schools failure to provide an effective education for children from disadvantaged backgrounds is not surprising in the light of some of his previous statements. Whether the government will take any notice is another matter: they should do so.
The Chief Inspector concluded his talk to the Festival of Education, held in the leafy glades of Wellington College, with the following comment;
“I came into teaching, above all, to make a difference to the lives of our poorest children. As Chief Inspector, I have attempted to show how the educational underperformance that blights the lives of disadvantaged pupils in reality beggars us all. Of course, the poor suffer the worst consequences. But we are all the poorer for their missed opportunities and wasted potential.”
I have every sympathy with that view, as indeed do the many hard working teachers that struggle on a daily basis to achieve miracles in many schools. It is interesting that in picking out his five reasons for failure he didn’t mention the changes made by the coalition government, such as the Pupil Premium and the introduction of free school meals for infant pupils that have tried to start reducing the gap.
His reasons for failure were distilled under five separate headings;
The political ideologies of both left and right
What he called the structural vandals
The constraining curriculum
And both poor teaching and poor leadership
I think the first, second and third reasons have similar elements to them as the final two are also related. But, the 1980s and 1990s were a long-time ago, indeed before most of the children in schools were even born. However, I think he is correct in saying that politicians too often concentrate on how to do things rather than a simple goal to achieve.
In Oxfordshire, after the dreadful Key state 1 results of 2011, the ‘every child a reader’ campaign had a simple aim; ensure every child could read. It didn’t matter what sort of school they went to or how it was organised, what mattered was that children were taught to read. The campaign started by the Evening Standard in London had a similar aim.
Whatever the turmoil of the next few years may bring we must not lose sight of the need to reduce the education gap between different groups in society. Uneducated, unemployed and feeling unloved by their country is a recipe for disaster if it affects a large group of those living in England. Sir Michael is right, “educational underperformance that blights the lives of disadvantaged pupils in reality beggars us all”. We now have to live with the consequences.