When Good Enough Just Isn’t Good Enough

This feels like shaky ground, so I’ll keep it brief.  Goodness knows I don’t need the new head of Ofsted on my case. (If you’re reading this, politicians and quango chiefs of the day, this isn’t my real name.)

Sir Michael Wilshaw

Sir Michael Wilshaw

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the man that Michael Gove delightfully describes as “my hero“, has wasted no time in making it clear who is at fault for what he perceives to be the UK’s education problems: teachers.  And his means of identifying sub-standard teachers?  He makes no distinction between ‘satisfactory’ and ‘inadequate’ lessons.  They’re all not good enough:

The last report from the chief inspector showed that 50% of lessons observed were graded good or above – “that means that 50% were less good,” Sir Michael said. (BBC News)

‘Satisfactory’, remember, is a technical term.  It’s used as a judgement in lesson observations where the teacher is doing everything that is expected of them – students are making progress in line with their abilities and both the teacher and students are aware (through means of formative assessment) what that progress is.  It’s no mean feat in many schools, where to convince some students to take pen to paper in a lesson is no minor achievement in itself.  A ‘good’ lesson represents stronger than expected progress, excellent behaviour management and very strong differentiation for students of different abilities, amongst other things.

In stating that half of all lessons are less than good, Mr Wilshaw has lumped everyone who is doing their job well in with the handful who aren’t, and comparing them all with those who are performing above expectations.  Hardly a constructive approach.  He is demeaning our teachers and discrediting his own inspection framework to group us in this way.  It is either satisfactory or it isn’t – “satisfactory” must not be allowed to mean “not good enough”, or the term is self-contradictory.

But he goes further – he says that the difference between a satisfactory lesson observation and a good one is a matter of whether the teacher is ‘coasting’.  Wow.  So it turns out “satisfactory” actually means “lazy”.

I don’t know how many teachers are personally or professionally satisfied to be adjudged to be satisfactory.  We aim higher than that, we really do, and it borders on offensive for Sir Michael to accuse almost half of us of not putting in enough effort.  But if all of our students were to achieve their target grades, a satisfactory performance, we’d be delighted with them, and so would Ofsted.  So why demean teaching which does everything that is required of it by lumping it in with those poor souls who are really struggling with their jobs?

Michael Gove has already made it clear that he thinks Victorian-style schooling is the model to be used for the 21st Century.  Michael Wilshaw’s track record, where he has been given the funding and freedom to act unilaterally, seems to be beyond reproach.  But as Gove’s own education and upbringing continues to show, one example of success is not enough to form a national system from.

Sadly, it seems the stream of divisive, demeaning and blinkered policies that come out of Gove’s office (hey!  Great idea – let’s tell kids who’ve got an A that it wasn’t a very good A!) seem like they will find a natural partner in Ofsted’s new chief.

(Please don’t fire me, Mr Gove/Wilshaw.  You’re my favourites.)

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