On Thursday 1 December, Sir Michael Wilshaw gave his last speech and final report as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, the role which he started on 1 January 2012.
It was a passionate and somewhat reflective speech about his five years as HMCI and his time as a headteacher, yet it also outlined the challenges that we still face to improve education for all children and young people in England.
A North – South Divide
One of the key areas which Sir Michael Wilshaw highlighted was the North-South divide. Overall the amount of good and outstanding secondary schools has increased over the last 5 years, from 66% to 78%. However there is a 12 percentage point difference between good or better schools in the South (84%) and those in the North (72%). Five years ago the North West was one of the strongest regions but it has only increased by 3% compared to 13% nationally. Sir Michael Wilshaw stated that ‘three in 10 secondary schools in Manchester and five in 10 in Liverpool are now less than good, compared to one in 10 in London.’ He goes on to suggest that “Perhaps we now need the government to appoint a high profile minister for the North to bang heads together across the regions and make sure action is urgently taken.”
If what is in place doesn’t change then it isn’t difficult to predict that, at best, the gap will stay the same or perhaps increase further. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector shared some of these thoughts in November and reiterated them again in his final speech, hours after the press reported on the DfE releasing a statement explaining that the National Teaching Service (NTS) would cease to exist. The NTS planned for 1,500 outstanding teachers and leaders to be deployed by 2020 to the schools that need them most, with a pilot in the North West. Only 54 teachers were in fact recruited.
This leads on to Sir Michael’s deep concerns about recruitment. His last two reports have mentioned the lack of teachers entering the profession and the shortfall in the amount of existing teachers applying for leadership roles. His report explains that the picture is the same for all the headteachers and principals he speaks to – they are struggling to recruit, especially in secondary. The Chief Inspector explained although we have not yet hit crisis point, it cannot be sustained for long:
“Let me be clear. Education is a people business. Without enough people – good people – it cannot and will not function. This is the most pressing issue facing the education system today… But I believe there is more that the government could and should be doing… Teaching is the best job in the world. I have never for one minute regretted my decision 40-odd years ago to become a teacher.”
Improvements to the System
Sir Michael, despite highlighting many concerns with the current education system, did also explore the positive changes within education. He made no apologies for the increase in standards during inspections, nor for his policy of ‘Satisfactory’ not being good enough. The introduction of the judgement ‘Inadequate’ has meant that the standards in schools across the country have risen. In 2012 there were nearly 4,800 satisfactory primary schools, many of which had been inspected multiple times and remained a satisfactory school. Four years later, 79% of those primary schools are good or outstanding. Out of 933 satisfactory secondary schools, 56% are now good or outstanding. Most significantly of all, 1.8 million more pupils are now in good or outstanding schools than six years ago.
Although there is still a way to go, there are signs that the quality of education and standards for many children have been improved. I wonder what the next five years will hold in store.