We need commissioners to spot failing schools, says Ofsted boss

A NETWORK of local commissioners should be created to spot problems with failing schools and dismiss incompetent head teachers, according to England’s new chief education inspector.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the incoming head of Ofsted claims that the job of identifying failing schools should not fall on his shoulders alone as more schools become independent academies under the Government’s education reforms.

The rapid expansion of the academies programme and the creation of new free schools means there are now more than a thousand state-funded schools across the country which are independent of local councils. Sir Michael warned that by the time Ofsted recognised a school as failing it was often too late, creating a need for local troubleshooters to identify problems early.

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He called on ministers to appoint dozens of local commissioners to decide whether to close or merge academies or replace head teachers or governing bodies where standards were unacceptably low.

He said: “I speak as someone who believes in autonomy and who believes in independence and as a great supporter of the academy programme, but we know there will be some academies that won’t do well.

“It is no good just relying on Ofsted to give the judgment.

“By that time it is too late. We need some sort of intermediary bodies which can detect when things aren’t going well, look at the data and have their ear very close to the ground to determine when there is a certain issue.”

Sir Michael also said scruffy teachers could be rebuked by his organisation, saying school inspection reports should comment on the professional dress and behaviour of staff.

He added: “If we turned up at the doctor’s surgery or the lawyer’s offices or a surgeon’s consultation we would expect them to look professional, it’s the same with teachers.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We welcome Sir Michael Wilshaw’s thoughts on how we can continue to drive up standards in schools. We have already established the Office of the Schools Commissioner and will take action to deal with any failing school or academy.

“We have also published more information than ever before about how schools are performing, including their spending and results, so they can be held to account and parents really know what is going on in schools, including academies.”

Stephen Twigg, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said his party would give “serious consideration” to the idea of commissioners. However he also voiced concerns about how the commissioners would be accountable to local people and local education authorities.

He said: “As part of Labour’s policy review we will give serious consideration to Sir Michael’s suggestion. We have been looking at the idea of local schools’ commissioners to raise standards and deal with poorly performing schools, while protecting autonomy and local accountability.

“But the Tory-led Government must answer serious questions before bringing in any changes. Will the new posts be accountable to local parents and communities? Will the new superintendents be qualified professionals?

“What relationship will they have with local authorities?

“Will there be a rigorous process of appointment or will the new jobs be given to favoured sons who simply fit with the Tories’ out of touch and out of date ideology?

“There needs to be strong evidence that these plans would work in the UK.

“They deserve a fair hearing but ministers should come to Parliament and explain them.”