Cllr Chris Whitehouse is the Education Spokesman for the Conservative Group of the Isle of Wight Council and Chairman of The Whitehouse Consultancy.
Ofsted’s reputation is built upon the principle of impartial inspections and assessment of evidence to review the performance of schools and the teachers in them. So its credibility has suffered a serious blow with the ill-informed, inaccurate, and profoundly insulting assertion by its Chairman, David Hoare, that educational challenges on the Isle of Wight are down to “inbreeding”.
This column does not deny that there has been a generational problem with low parental aspiration on the Island, which, combined with poor political decisions in the past, has led to low achievement in many of our schools. For many years the Island was in denial about that, but now we have in place senior leadership teams in most of our schools who understand that they have problems, know what they are, and are driving forward effective agendas to address them.
The gene pool on the Island, as it happens, is probably as diverse as any in England outside the main metropolitan cities since it has been a home for seafaring, shipbuilding, military bases, and seasonal labour for centuries. This column challenges Hoare to produce any evidence whatsoever that the island is “inbred” and, indeed, any evidence to suggest that anywhere in England experiences poor educational standards because of inbreeding. It is arrant nonsense and therein lies the issue for Ofsted and its reputation.
Put simply, and things do need to be put simply for Hoare, these remarks have suggested what our legal colleagues might call “apparent bias” meaning that even if no Ofsted inspectors are actually biased against schools on the Isle of Wight, it would be very difficult for Ofsted’s conclusions in respect of Isle of Wight Schools to be accepted as fair whilst Mr Hoare remains in post. Its credibility is holed below the waterline so far as the Island is concerned.
His remarks were particularly unfortunate given the genuine cross-party commitment to driving up educational standards about which I have written previously on this site. What is more, we have some of the best head-teachers in England on the Island, including one who is an advisor to Ofsted and another who was the star of the television series “Educating Cardiff”.
Attracting high calibre teachers to the Island has always been a challenge, and whilst we have made great progress in recent years the damage that Hoare has done to the reputation of our Island schools will make it harder to attract those high performers in future. And, how can our children working hard for their exams be other than demotivated by this slur upon their intelligence and their prospects?
Put simply again for Hoare, this is not just reputational damage to the Island, its schools, its parents and its children, but it is a serious blow to educational outputs. Is that what Ofsted should be about in Hoare’s view?
I resisted the invitation to call, on the BBC Radio 4 PM Programme (listen here at 35 minutes in), for Hoare to resign, because that would have been a view expressed in anger at the gratuitous insult paid by him to the Island and its families. But, on reflection, given that he has actually damaged the education of children, tarnished Ofsted’s reputation, and incensed an entire teaching community, his continued occupancy of his current position would be difficult to justify.
Hoare, a merchant banker by background, actually boasted in his remarks, reported in the Times Education Supplement, of popping over to Cowes to drink champagne, no doubt with his posh sailing chums. This does, of course, raise a different question about the kind of person who is appointed to take these elite positions. This site has done a sterling job in systematically identifying and encouraging applications for appointed positions of public office.
What we need in future appointments is more women and men who’ve actually had dirt under their fingernails, who’ve worked their way up the hard way as opposed to being born into privilege and wealth. The mission of our party should be to smash these ivory towers, to be champions for white van man and blue collar workers, small businessmen and genuine entrepreneurs. I hope that in our former coal-mining Party Chairman, Patrick McLoughlin, and the champion of Essex Man, Robert Halfon, now Skills Minister, we can successfully shift our Party’s paradigm in that regard. If they succeed, Conservatives will remain in power for decades.
Hoare is not a lone example of the sneering elite, he is, sadly, typical of it. That must end.