New Ofsted boss backs school commissioners

Local school commissioners could replace local education authorities
Local school commissioners could replace local education authorities

By Alex Stevenson

The schools watchdog's new head has called for the introduction of apolitical local education chiefs.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, who is set to take over at Ofsted in the new year, said he wanted to see the new school commissioners separate from the political system by making them report directly to the secretary of state.

They would help Ofsted by identifying problem schools earlier than the watchdog is able to through its inspections regime.

They would decide whether struggling academies should be merged or closed and whether to fire headteachers or governing bodies.

"It is no good just relying on Ofsted to give the judgment. By that time it is too late," he told the Times newspaper.

"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 said the "non-political" appointments would not be like local education authorities, which are responsible to a council.

"The job of the commissioner would be to meet the managing directors, the chief executives of those clusters, report to him or her on the performance of the group," he added.

"And the commissioner would then make a judgment on whether a school needs to be improved, report to the secretary of state and then bring in other agencies to improve those schools or not."

Labour responded with cautious enthusiasm to the proposals, but warned serious questions had to be answered before they could be implemented.

"There needs to be strong evidence that these plans would work in the UK," shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said.

"They deserve a fair hearing but ministers should come to parliament and explain them."

School commissioners were originally proposed by the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Rick Muir, associate director for public service reform at the thinktank, argued that a "massive centralisation of power" was taking place in the school system which would ultimately prove "unworkable".

"The best way forward would be to create new schools' commissioners at the local level, starting in the big cities where they would be appointed by the new city mayors," he argued in comment piece for the Times.

"New York City has a powerful schools' commissioner; so should London, Birmingham, Manchester and our other great English cities."

Sir Michael also said he wanted to punish teachers who dress scruffily and called for some school governors to be paid in a bid to improve their performance.


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