Phil Taylor is a Conservative Councillor for Northfield Ward in Ealing. Follow Phil on Twitter here.
Overnight the media reported remarks made by Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, as he launched Ofsted’s Getting to Good initiative.
Wilshaw is making some hugely important changes to Ofsted and to England’s schools in turn. In “Getting to Good” Ofsted spells out what it takes for a school to move from the old satisfactory judgement to good. This is all part of Wilshaw’s intolerance of poor teaching and poor schools that let down too many of our children. In future, schools will not be allowed to coast along as "satisfactory". They will be branded as being in need of improvement and given four years to get to good.
Wilshaw took the opportunity to criticise mixed ability teaching, early examinations and the fact that 20% of capable kids leaving primary school aren’t getting As, A*s and Bs at GCSE level. In passing he also questioned whether the Coalition’s Pupil Premium policy was achieving its aims based on survey data collected by Ofsted.
This morning the flagship Radio 4 Today programme ignored Wilshaw’s most important comments in favour of talking exclusively about the Coalition’s Pupil Premium, £1.25 billion of new funds targeted at disadvantaged children. Today interviewed Russell Hoby, General Secretary of union NAHT, and Lib Dem schools minister David Laws, and stuck solely to the pupil premium in its coverage — completely ignoring the scandal that our education system squanders 20% of our talented youngsters.
The Guardian managed to be a little more balanced with headlines Ofsted chief tells schools to make better use of pupil premium and Ofsted chief inspector cautions against growing number of early GCSE entries. If you read through to the bottom of the second article you do get some of Wilshaw’s more trenchant criticisms of schools’ attainment.
The right-wing press has taken a totally different message from the same press conference. The Telegraph headline was “Ofsted: mixed-ability classes 'a curse' on bright pupils”. The Daily Mail said: ”Mixed-ability classes 'are holding back bright pupils' says head of education watchdog”.
Maybe Wilshaw and Ofsted were politically naive to try to talk about improving schools a couple of days before the Liberal Democrat conference kicks off over the weekend in Brighton. I can’t help thinking that it suits the BBC and the Guardian to major on the Pupil Premium because it allows them to ignore Wilshaw’s core mission. Maybe I am just paranoid.
Either way, in the long term, the Pupil Premium will just be seen as a blip in the historical record of state school finances. If Wilshaw’s intolerance of failure succeeds he may rescue millions of children from a poor education. Ofsted needs to make sure that its message is heard by the public.