Clock Wise? Calling time on Wilshaw’s pay and performance policy

ClockCOMMENT – I can’t help it.  I’m fast becoming completely obsessed by the increasingly barmy, illogical and paradoxical utterances of Gove and Wilshaw or, as I’ve begun calling them, MichaelDum and MichaelDee.  In fact, giving them these nicknames is the only way I can prevent myself from slipping into a slough of despond about what they’re doing to schools and teachers, because otherwise, the image my brain offers up is of two additional horsemen of the apocalypse, but a pair who the other four ejected as ‘a bit too scary and unforgiving for our gang’.

A friend sent me a link this week to an article in the Guardian of 17 September 2011, entitled “The Saturday interview: Mossbourne academy’s Sir Michael Wilshaw” and I was immediately captured by the portrait offered of the current Oberst-Gruppenführer of Ofsted.  Now, this interview was done shortly before his appointment to the Ofsted job, but the Wilshaw who has quickly become notorious for making Chris Woodhead sound reasonable, fair and supportive of teachers is clearly identifiable.

Much of the interview concerns how, as Head of Mossbourne academy, Wilshaw ‘transformed the lives’ of some of the children who have attended it.  We’re told that many of his staff are paid £50000 because they’re so good; I’m sure the heads of many secondary schools in the UK struggling to pay their staff even the lower amounts to which the teachers’ pay scale entitles them will be happy to hear that ‘flagship’ schools apparently have this sort of cash to flash.

I was especially interested, however, when Wilshaw was asked in the interview about whether or not he’d gone to Oxbridge and he replied “I’d like to have done, but I wasn’t brainy enough. I was a typical boy in that I didn’t work as hard as I should have done. I scraped through my A-levels, but I was taught well.”  Just read that for a moment, thoroughly digest what he’s said and we’ll return to it later, I promise.

More recently, Wilshaw has returned to old ground by having one of his generalised pops at teachers; he told the Times that Ofsted inspectors would ‘mark down’ schools which gave pay increases to teachers who were “out the gate at 3 o’clock”.

Do you know, it’s hard to know where to begin on this one, but I suppose I’d better focus on the ‘out the gate at 3 o’clock’ bit.  I don’t know about Wilshaw, but even when I began teaching in 1981 I found that my red biro would mark books just as effectively at home as it would in the school building; furthermore, once I’d got my hands on my own computer, I didn’t even need to be in school to type up reports, lesson plans or, indeed, in order to make my own resources.  What Wilshaw has done here – and he knows perfectly well what he’s doing, don’t make any mistake about that – is to appeal to the knee-jerk, Mail and Telegraph-reading masses who have long believed that all teachers dance joyfully out of the gate at 3pm (including, presumably, those whose schools don’t close until later) and straight into the pub.  It must be true, mustn’t it, if a former head teacher says it is.  That’ll be the former headteacher who, whilst still a head, had enough spare time to appear on the BBC programme ‘Homes Under the Hammer’, showing the nation how much money he was making out of property developing.  I have not made that bit up, by the way.

What is especially annoying, hurtful and just plain untrue as far as teachers are concerned is the notion that they can actually get away for a moment with not working after the final bell has gone.  We’ll set aside the regular meetings they’re obliged to attend after school – some stretching towards 9 or even 10pm – and consider just how much time the average classroom teacher must spend working in order to survive in a modern school.

In that same interview, Wilshaw went on to say that staff who went the “extra mile” would be paid well and receive promotion.  Given that Wilshaw equates the ‘extra mile’ with ‘hanging about in school’, I’m at a loss to think of a pay system more unfair than this; in addition, I want to know how he knows there will be sufficient money in each school’s budget to pay such staff ‘well’ and what’s more, how well is ‘well’?

You can imagine the scene, can’t you?  Mr Creepstoomuch, who has stayed in school every night until he’s sure the head teacher has left, is asked to step into the head’s office.  Wagging his metaphorical tail, our hero stands waiting for the head to tell him how ‘well’ he’s going to be paid, only for the head to explain that as a result of continuing budget cuts, he’s been identified for redundancy.  The fact that he might well have worked the longest hours but is far from the most effective teacher may have more than a little to do with it, of course, because – and someone really does need to sit MichaelDee down and explain this to him slowly – many teachers work incredibly long hours at home.

I said at the beginning that I’d be returning to Wilshaw’s interview in the Guardian last year and I shall be as good as my word.  You’ll recall he admitted that his A level results were a bit rubbish and that this was because he hadn’t worked very hard, despite having been ‘taught well’.  Now, I shall say nothing about how those who fare badly in exams have long claimed they ‘didn’t do enough work’, because the alternative is to admit to being a bit dim and focus on this fact:  Wilshaw admits that it is perfectly possible for a teacher to teach ‘well’, but their pupils still fail to achieve good enough results.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this admission fly right in the face of his other pronouncements about teachers?  After all, how is a head to assess which of her staff are doing a good enough job, if not by the results of their pupils which – Wilshaw has admitted – might be affected by the effort made by the children they teach.

Or am I underestimating his thinking here?  Is it that he realises it’s not as easy as that, given the fact that children are not raw materials which can be easily fashioned into the product of your choice?  I suppose in that case, clocking who goes home earliest is as ‘fair’ a method as any other.  It would certainly give heads a lot more free time – and who knows, maybe we’d see more of them popping up on television shows about making money in your ‘free’ time.

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Helen Freeborn

Helen Freeborn was a secondary headteacher for 11 years until she gave it all up to live in Greece. Now returned after four years abroad, she divides her time between consultancy, training, a range of writing projects and catching up with all the television she has missed.

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