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Sir Michael Wilshaw's 1st Speech

This speech was posted on the Ofsted website 9/2/12.  We have responded to requests and re-posted it for you to view here.

High expectations, no excuses

A speech to the London Leadership Strategy’s Good to Great conference,
9 February 2012
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Ofsted

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here to speak to heads who are in the vanguard of raising performance levels for our country’s children and young people.

Despite all the stresses and strains, [you might have just had a row with your union rep, your best maths teacher might be about to leave…] headship is a wonderful job. I know that because I was one for 26 years. Indeed, I’m suffering from the equivalent of educational cold turkey. You can tell I am suffering withdrawal symptoms. Every time a fire alarm goes off at Aviation House I rush out into the street to do playground duty. Every time there is an unexpected knock at my door I assume it is going to be an unruly pupil! 

Remember, and I used to say this many times to my senior staff who worried about taking on the role, there is no mystery in headship: it demands hard work and common sense. There are different styles, there are different ways of doing things. But the outstanding heads I have met all share one key characteristic: an absolute passion to raise standards. They are never satisfied, they are restless for improvement, and they are always looking for the next challenge. They rarely accept the status quo, and they take on entrenched attitudes. More about this in a minute.

So why have I left headship, a job that I loved. Why would I take on the complex and challenging role of Chief Inspector?

Quite simply, I believe we need radical improvements to the education system in this country. And I believe that inspection, along with your commitment, dedication and hard work can help to make it happen. 

My view is that we have tolerated mediocrity for far too long – it has settled into the system. All you have to do is look at previous chief inspectors’ reports, which say the same thing about too much mediocre provision and failure residing in our poorest communities.

For those who don’t feel this urgency, remember what the latest PISA report tells us about the performance of our education system. We’re not improving - our position is stagnating and other countries are pulling ahead. Social background has a much bigger impact on results here than in most other OECD countries, particularly when it comes to basic skills.

In England, around 1 in 7 adults lack the literacy skills we expect children to have at the end of primary school, and 1 in 5 young people under the age of 24 are currently unemployed.

Let’s remind ourselves of where we are in terms of school standards:

  • A third of all pupils leave primary school without being secure in reading, writing and mathematics, rising to more than 40 per cent of the most deprived pupils.
  • In secondary schools, a quarter of a million children do not achieve the benchmark 5 A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths.
  • Of the children entitled to free school meals, two thirds were below this benchmark.

We have made progress. But the quality of educational provision isn’t improving fast enough, and the gap in educational outcomes between the richest and the poorest isn’t closing. Without radical change now, we will see more social and economic division in this country.

So I believe we have a moral imperative to act decisively. That is why I am here.

Certainly, Ofsted was key in transforming my life as a teacher and headteacher. Our education system is much better because of greater accountability in the system. Those who think we haven’t made progress need to remember what it was like before Ofsted. I certainly do. In the seventies and eighties, when I worked in places like Peckham, Bermondsey, Hackney and West Ham, whole generations of children and young people were failed.

The school where I was head before moving to Ofsted, Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, stands on the site of Hackney Downs School, which in its day represented the worst excesses of that period. But there would have been many others just as bad that never hit the headlines and got away with blue murder.

Ofsted challenged the educational establishment to do better. It needs to continue doing so and raise the bar to address the significant failures I have just outlined. So I am making a number of announcements which we will consult on before implementation in September 2012.

Before I go into them, let me make it clear that I am not proposing changes to the structure of the school inspection framework we have just introduced, with its focus on the four key areas of achievement, teaching, behaviour and safety, and leadership. But within that framework I want to raise expectations, and be sharper about those things that I believe really matter.

So what are the measures I am proposing?


Firstly, we’re going to focus more on schools that are not yet good. Parents want their children to go to a good school, nothing less. And most do - seven out of ten schools were judged good or better at their last inspection. However, almost a third of schools were not, which is far too many. 3000 schools in England were judged ‘satisfactory’ at their last two inspections, which means many pupils could have their whole experience of primary or secondary school – or indeed both – at a school that is less than good. This is particularly the case in deprived communities but what is astonishing is that there are 300 schools serving the most prosperous students that are coasting along in the satisfactory category.

That’s why we are doing away with the word ‘satisfactory’. If a school is not yet good, we will say it ‘requires improvement’. So there will now be four judgements – outstanding, good, requires improvement and special measures. This re-grading will focus minds and send a clear and unequivocal message to schools that decisive action is necessary to bring about improvement. Our national ambition should be for all schools to be good or better. 

We will reinspect schools that ‘require improvement’ more quickly. At the moment ‘satisfactory’ schools could go almost four years before their next full inspection. For these schools, I want to reduce the time between inspections significantly, perhaps to no more than 18 months, with a requirement that after two inspections, if a school has not improved to ‘good’, it will go into special measures.

To those who say this is too tough, my response is look around you - it can be done, even in the most challenging circumstances. Nearly 700 schools in England serving the 20 per cent most deprived pupils were satisfactory at their previous inspection, but are now good or outstanding. Some of you may have led schools on just this journey of improvement and I’d like to thank you for what you have done. It is possible to drive up standards rapidly from a low base. There can be no more excuses.


Secondly, we need clear and demanding criteria for a school to be judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.  A good school should have at least good teaching, and an outstanding school should have outstanding teaching. Good and outstanding leadership of teaching and learning drives improvement and knows that the culture of the school and the progress of pupils depend on it.

The fact is - many schools currently judged to be ‘outstanding’ did not meet this requirement. One in five outstanding primary schools and half of outstanding secondary schools did not have outstanding teaching at their last inspection. This is just over 1000 schools across England. 

This means schools previously judged outstanding might be subject to a review of that status at some stage in the future. There needs to be a clear gold standard understood by all.


Thirdly, what does the leadership of outstanding teaching mean?

  • You and your senior team have to show your passion and commitment for teaching in everything you say and do
  • You need to be committed to good quality professional development
  • You monitor the quality of teaching effectively and ensure performance management is robust in rewarding those who teach well, and doing something about those who consistently underperform.

I think it quite legitimate for Ofsted to look at the correlation between the quality of teaching and salary progression. In other words, is the school providing good value for money?

I know this is a difficult issue and performance management can be a challenging process. But nothing is worse for staff morale than good teachers feeling there is a lack of equity in the way they are treated. 

Unless we have headteachers who take on the difficult challenges of school performance and adopt a no excuses culture, we are never going to make the improvements we need.

It is also important that outstanding schools should not luxuriate in their own outstandingness. There is a moral imperative and duty to support others that are doing less well. That’s why I want leaders of our outstanding institutions to involve themselves in the inspection process. Ofsted needs you. Your country needs you.

Therefore I am in discussions with the National College on a suggestion we introduce a sort of national service for outstanding heads and leaders. These “conscripts” will join Ofsted on a small number of inspections a year to ensure consistency of judgement across the different phases. It seems to me we can’t have it both ways. We can’t have headteachers complaining about variations in judgements – as I often hear - unless we are prepared to bring our expertise to the process of inspection ourselves. After all, that’s what I’ve done.


Fourthly, it is important we see schools as they really are on the day of inspection, so we can report honestly and accurately. That is why I intend to introduce unannounced school inspections from September 2012. Most schools strive to do well day in, day out, so this should not cause them any concern. In fact, it should remove a great deal of anxiety from the system. 

Even more importantly we need an inspection process that is credible and rigorous in the eyes of the public. Ofsted’s credibility will be undermined if there is any suggestion that schools can play the system and employ unprofessional practices.

No notice inspection fits well with the new streamlined inspection framework with its focus on the quality of teaching – and the leadership of teaching. As a result inspectors can move straight into the classroom, within moments of arriving at the school. Prior to the inspection they can view relevant documentation on the school’s website and gather parental perceptions using Ofsted’s new online Parent View facility.


Fifthly, I am determined to ensure that inspection reports have clarity and impact. The language should be straightforward and easily understood by parents. This is particularly important in relation to describing what a school needs to do to improve standards. Therefore the first page of any Ofsted report will explain clearly why a school is not yet outstanding or not yet good, as well as recognising those things that a school is doing well.

In conclusion, I am committed to seeing these reforms through and hope that they enjoy your support and the support of other colleagues. As I said at the very start, I believe we need to radically improve our education system and that we need to work together to raise expectations, and close the gaps.


The prize is worth having: a good or better education for all our young people, with no excuses accepted.

Thank you