Response to Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter


Sir Michael Wilshaw replied to Mick Fletcher’s open letter to him (see previous post). Click to read Sir Michael’s reply.


Mick Fletcher remains unconvinced…

Wilshaw’s response is unconvincing

Sir Michael Wilshaw has written in response to the letter which I and a number of colleagues from the Policy Consortium recently sent to Ofsted, challenging his comments about the further education sector in a speech to Centre Forum on Monday 19th January.

It is good that in his reply he accepts that “the majority of GFE colleges and independent training providers in England are judged by Ofsted to be good or better”. But it is disappointing that, in essence, he seeks to stand firmly by his earlier comments. His explanation for that stance lacks all logic.

He asserts that “for many young people” across the country, post-16 provision is “poor”. Few would disagree. Even if only 3% of FE institutions are inadequate, that is still a lot of individuals – and we should try to do better by them. However, this is not what Sir Michael said in the speech. His statement, to which I and many sector leaders took exception, was: “educational provision, for the many children who do not succeed at 16 or who would prefer an alternative to higher education, is inadequate at best and non-existent at worst.” There is a clear difference. “Many young people” can refer to the minority in inadequate provision, and correctly so; but “the many children” unambiguously refers to an entire sector.

If these comments were made in an off-the-cuff answer, Sir Michael might be excused for not choosing his words with sufficient care; but they were not. They were made in a prepared speech that can still be read, unaltered, on the Ofsted website. They were even highlighted in the speech as one of three acute challenges facing our education system. Moreover, they were set in a speech that made no reference at all to the excellent provision made by hundreds of colleges and other FE providers. Instead, he chose to smear FE colleges as a whole with a dated and un-evidenced personal anecdote.

Not just the FE sector, but England as a whole deserves better of its Chief Inspector. On the most charitable interpretation of Sir Michael’s original speech and follow-up letter, at the very least it deserves someone with a better command of the English language and its appropriate use. On the more likely interpretation, it deserves someone better able to put evidence – and that of his own organisation, in particular – before the prejudice against the FE sector that suffuses the higher reaches of the educational establishment, including Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector.

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