Ofsted insists on a ‘no excuses culture’

Written by: HTU | Published:

The headteacher of Downhills Primary resigns, we’re told 5,000 more are inadequate. School leaders are being exhorted to ‘bridge the gap’ and ‘raise the bar’. Is it out with partnership and in with power?

The message is clear, Sir Michael Wilshaw wants to see a cohort of school leaders who are, “powerful individuals capable of championing their schools and promoting high standards”. These leaders will robustly reward those who do well and punish those who under perform. And Ofsted will check that they do.

The proposals outlined in A Good Education for All, the consultation on Ofsted arrangements for September 2012, present a stark and unforgiving landscape for schools. Satisfactory schools will no longer be considered to be providing an acceptable standard of education and on the third strike of “requires improvement” you’re special measures.

Inspectors will be checking that heads are not over-generous in their allocation of pay rises and the outcomes of recent performance management will form the evidence for a judgement on leadership and management. This presents as a harsh regime that many heads who prefer a culture of support and partnership may find it against their principles to apply.

“Unless we have headteachers who take on the difficult challenges of school performance and adopt a no excuses culture, we are never going to make the improvements we need,” said Sir Michael at the Good to Great conference. No doubt – like he and other maverick leaders themselves can demonstrate.

Maverick leaders

The captains and colonels of our education system are growing in number. Sir Michael and Charlie Taylor, the government’s behaviour advisor, stand out clearly as charismatic individuals who have a lot to say about how things should be in our schools. They are the living representation of Michael Gove’s dream. Ex-heads who are evidence that everything the government is so clearly shouting from the turrets can be done. Educational failure need not happen, no matter how low the starting point.

There is no doubt that they are very special leaders who, within their contexts, have installed a dynamic approach that has transformed the schools they were responsible for. But will what has worked for them work for everyone? It is perhaps largely their own determination, confidence and special mix that has enabled this approach to rocket their results. But it is not as simple as applying a formula, banning hugging or a basic checklist.

Their leadership brand might not be to everyone’s liking or in the best interests of all our schools. There is an absence of partnership working, co-operation, consultation and respect for the reasons why pupils may not achieve. There is a touch of machismo in the non-compromising, no excuses brigade. A self-assurance that can appear as arrogance. Heads are being told that the culture they must aspire to and create is one of high expectations and scores at all cost. It is also one where bullying can flourish and the needs of the child can too easily fall to second place.


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