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Conference angered and saddened by Wilshaw
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Conference "saddened and angered" by Sir Michael Wilshaw

Michael Curtis

Head teachers sent a strong message to the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, in an emergency motion to Conference on Sunday morning.


The motion said the conference was “saddened and angered” by the approach taken by the current HMCI.


We deplore his negative rhetoric which is creating a culture of fear in schools. We would have expected him, as a former fellow school leader, to understand that to get the best out of children and staff in schools, we need to both challenge and support.”


An amendment suggested that the NAHT should use the e-petition system to seek a parliamentary debate on head teachers' concerns over Ofsted, in particular Parent View, the new “requires improvement” grade and no-notice inspections.


The motion with its amendment was passed with almost unanimous support.


Proposing the motion, Oxfordshire head Mike Curtis was applauded when he said there was no reason to rule out passing a vote of no confidence in the Chief Inspector in the future, adding “Wilshaw apparently in the press says he wants to work with good heads. I suggest he ought to work with all heads.”


Mr Curtis painted a vivid picture of what the current Ofsted regime was doing to NAHT members, talking about the “bully-boy tactics” of Michael Wilshaw and Ofsted’s “negative rhetoric”.


“Successful careers are being damaged or destroyed, more schools are going into a category and confidence wanes as Ofsted waves its stick,” he said, adding:


“Are we going to stand around and let Wilshaw get away with what he’s saying? He’s saying we should be lone heroes who beat everyone in our schools into submission. The suggestion that we get the best out of people by bullying them is outrageous.”


Schools, he said, were not factories making goods but were dealing with people and head teachers needed to be role models for staff and pupils.


In a passionate speech, Mr Curtis said that the Chief Inspector argued for a model of leadership where the head teacher was right and other opinions worthless. “He says we should not be afraid to upset staff if it is for the good of the children. I agree with this: it is difficult to do the job without sometimes upsetting people. However, this does not mean bullying them or dismissing their ideas. Challenge them, yes. Rubbish them, no. Michael Wilshaw is wrong and a strong message from us is imperative.”


Mr Curtis said the idea of an educational institution solely dependent upon one individual was likely to run into difficulties if that person fell ill or retired. “What should concern us all is that a former head teacher should promote a style of leadership that is untenable and unsustainable.”


He said he had yet to meet a school leader who was not committed to school improvement and did not aim to ensure that all children achieved well, and criticised the way in which Ofsted inspections work, saying that the goalposts were constantly moving. “If we were to double the performance of all schools there would still be half below average,” he said.


Eugene Symons, seconding the motion, talked of a “leadership vacuum” which could be the result of the current “climate of fear”. “There is uncertainty and trepidation in taking on leadership,” he said.

Brian McNutt said 100,000 signatures were needed on an e-petition and there were 400,000 people in the profession. Working with other unions, he thought it would be possible to get 25 per cent of the profession signed up within the year for which such petitions are live. “I think we can do it in super-fast time,” he said.


Susan Young 

Page Published: 06/05/2012