Ofsted chief declares war on grammar schools
Sir Michael Wilshaw says selection holds back poorer pupils and urges ‘pushy parents’ to whistleblow on poor teaching.
The chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has launched a scathing assault on England’s 164 state-funded grammar schools and their supporters for holding back poorer pupils from getting on in life.
Wilshaw hit out at the selective schools for being “stuffed full of middle-class kids” and dismissed growing calls for more grammars in the wake of a damning international report on standards in schools. The head of the Office for Standards in Education said demands for more grammars should be ignored, as they serve the top 10% of the population at the expense of the poorest.
Wilshaw further set out his wider plans and concerns for 2014, saying:
? More “pushy parents” should whistleblow directly to Ofsted about very poor teaching standards.
? A possible influx of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria next month could put a major strain on the state school system, which he admitted was “very brittle in parts”.
? He believed in the value of testing children not just at the ages of seven, 14, 16 and 18, but at every year of their school life.
? The recent announcement that graduates with third-class degrees in maths and physics will be given £9,000 to fund their training was a failure to seek “the best”.
? Teachers’ six-week summer holiday is “too long”.
Wilshaw reserved his most direct message for those who believe that new grammar schools are the answer to the problems that were exposed in a recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which ranked the UK at just 26th for maths, 23rd for reading and 21st for science. In comments that put him on a collision course with education secretary Michael Gove, who has expressed support for grammar schools, Wilshaw said: “Grammar schools are stuffed full of middle-class kids. A tiny percentage are on free school meals: 3%. That is a nonsense.
“Anyone who thinks grammar schools are going to increase social mobility needs to look at those figures. I don’t think they work. The fact of the matter is that there will be calls for a return to the grammar school system. Well, look what is happening at the moment. Northern Ireland has a selective system and they did worse than us in the [international comparison] table. The grammar schools might do well with 10% of the school population, but everyone else does really badly. What we have to do is make sure all schools do well in the areas in which they are located.”
There have been increasingly noisy calls for more grammar schools from Tory MPs. Earlier this year the government changed the rules to allow oversubscribed schools, including grammars, to set up satellite schools on separate sites.
The Tory-run Kent council subsequently gave the green light to such an expansion in Sevenoaks, only for bids from two grammars to fail on Friday because they appeared to open up entirely new schools rather than mere annexes.
However, the leader of Kent council, Paul Carter, said that he had had a meeting with Gove on Thursday and had been told that the Department for Education was “genuinely open” to another application in coming months.
Wilshaw, however, said he would not support the expansion of grammar schools, which educate around 5% of pupils in England, and called for the focus to be on improving the country’s current schools. He said that he hoped parents would help him carry out his work by contacting Ofsted when they came across serious failings in schools: “Parents write in to Ofsted and complain about an institution. And I would encourage that. Pushy parents have usually got kids in schools where, because they are pushing hard, standards rise.”
The former headteacher also said that the government had a “big job” in ensuring England had enough quality teachers in the system, should there be an influx of Romanian and Bulgarian children when transitional restrictions on working in the UK are lifted.
“Obviously I have got concerns about that. If we get huge numbers of children from overseas and from eastern Europe coming in, we have to have enough teachers to teach them and resources available in schools.”
Wilshaw said the answer was not to lower standards in recruitment. Of the government’s decision to give bursaries to trainee teachers with third-class degrees in maths and physics, Wilshaw said: “That is not the right direction of travel. You have to make sure that it is across the board, even in those shortage subject areas, that you go for the best. And we need to introduce into the system – if we don’t have them already – incentives to get the best.”