Wilshaw FE furore continues as Ofsted inspector investigated

The fallout is continuing over Sir Michael Wilshaw’s much-criticised comments about FE — as FE Week has discovered that one of the Ofsted chief’s own inspectors is under investigation after calling for him to go.

The chief inspector provoked a huge backlash when he laid into the FE sector during an appearance before the Commons Education Select Committee on March 2 — claiming it was “in a mess” and 16 to 19-year-olds should be taught in schools, not colleges.

It provoked Ofsted inspector Tony Davis into delivering a passionate speech at a recent NewBubbles Leading Aspiration FE Conference, in Heathrow (pictured), criticising Mr Wilshaw’s comments and calling for him to be removed from the post before his planned retirement in December.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted chief inspector

Ofsted has now told FE Week that it is investigating whether Mr Davis, who delivered a presentation with the title “elephant in the room”, had breached his contract as a result of his comments.

A spokesperson said: “Our contract with Ofsted inspectors (OIs) sets out clearly our policies and expectations on matters such as conduct, use of the OI title and conflicts of interest.

“We will always investigate when allegations are made to establish if any policy has been breached.”

When told about this, Mr Davis told FE Week: “I have in no way contravened my Ofsted contract or the ‘OI Engagement Guidance’, which says we ‘should not damage the reputation of Ofsted’.

“On the contrary, it is because I value Ofsted’s reputation so highly that I am asking for the Ofsted leadership to stand down the chief inspector.”
Tricia Hartley, the former chief executive of the Campaign for Learning, heard his speech at the conference.

Reflecting on this, she said: “Tony stole the show, with a vigorous, well-evidenced refutation of Wilshaw’s highly publicised recent comments on FE.

“He suggested that Sir Michael’s immediate departure on gardening leave for the remainder of his tenure could not come soon enough, in order to stem the damage done to the sector’s reputation by his hostile statements.”

The government distanced itself from Mr Wilshaw’s comments two days after he appeared before MPs.

“We are very supportive of the work done by colleges and distance ourselves from Sir Michael’s comments,” a source close to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told FE Week.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, also challenged Sir Michael to justify his opinions — which he said had caused “a good deal of consternation and anger” — in a letter shared with the paper.

He wrote: “Quite apart from the conflict inherent in her Majesty’s chief inspector being called to give evidence in his official capacity and then providing a personal opinion, even personal opinions require justification if they are not to be regarded as mere prejudice or an unreliable anecdotal judgement.”

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  1. Well done Tony for showing conviction and courage sadly lacking from our so called advocates 157, AoC et al

    Sir Mike will carry on with his contempt of our FE sector until we unite and insist on his removal. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all colleges denied Ofsted access until action is taken. We all know leaders set the tone and is there a link between recent downturn in grades when the boss has such views

    Get the dinosaur out and Ofsted could really benefit in getting Tony or his like in as the new boss to restore some faith in this politically driven out of touch inspectorate who would seek to intimidate and bully someone who dares speak the truth

    Shame on you Ofsted if this brave soul is victimised the villain is your so called leader reeling like an embarrassing relative at the wedding!

  2. Andrew Morris

    At last a person brave enough to speak plainly about the damage his powerful boss done to a great part of the UK education system. Quite apart from the Chief Inspector’s abuse of professionals and students in the FE system, his crude remarks have fuelled prejudice and ignorance more generally by placing personal anecdote above clear evidence. Congratulations Tony Davis!

  3. Mark Hill

    It seems to me the wrong person is being investigated by Ofsted. If there is anyone that’s brought it into disrepute and abused their status and role with unsubstantiated comments I think an objective investigation might conclude it’s not Mr Davis. What I’ve seen of his work is objective, measured and thoughtful. Importantly helpful to the sector and its staff, not just beating it up whilst not understanding it.

  4. Sam Buckley

    Mr Wilshaws comments about FE are not founded in evidence or experience. Studying music at an FE college post 16 gave me everything a school could and a whole lot more. It allowed me to follow traditional A levels combined with vocational courses. As a head of Visual and Performing Arts in a large secondary school I know too well how finances limit the course options in traditional school sixth forms. Studying at an FE college allowed me to learn traditional classical skills with outstanding instrumental teaching that was certainly of higher quality than I see being offered in schools. Alongside this I learned about the music industry and music technology. I played in a big band, soul band, acid jazz band, piano sextet as well as the traditional choirs, woodwind quintets, and gave classical recitals. It is rare to find such variety at such a high standard in a school setting (believe me I try to achieve this!) I pass on this experience to my own students and often think back to my college days and to the teachers who inspired me to give our young people so many opportunities. No doubt school sixth forms are right for some young people but FE colleges are equally so and I advise my young people accordingly. Even if it does mean I lose some amazing students to our local college each year.

  5. The FE sector is such a valuable part of the British education infrastructure and must be protected and supported. It offers young people a valid alternative to school education post 16. Continuation in school too often would not be a palatable option for so many of the young people I teach. I only hope this leads to a positive outcome…

  6. Angela Swift

    My son was something of a musical prodigy. His school had absolutely no idea what to do with him so we took him out of school at age 16 & put him into Wakefield Colleges Music Department where he studied for 3 years. He then went on to Salford University & gained a 2/1 in Popular Music & Recording. He is now a very successful guitarist & songwriter. This would not be the case if he had been made to stay in school

  7. Robbie Tabrett

    I taught music technology in FE for 8 years but was made redundant last July. In my opinion the biggest problem as a music lecturer comes from the current government and particularly Nicky Morgan’s misunderstanding and divaluation of the creative arts. Whilst some areas of FE can really benifit from being taught through apprenticeships, it is extremely difficult to create effective apprenticeship in many area of the creative arts. However, the current government approach is to only put value on the subject areas that they feel are important.
    The government are also setting targets for a large percentage of the modules to be taught on line, with many of the modules being create by existing lecturers, who are, in effect, putting themselves out of a job. There is also a move to teach larger and larger class sizes to reduce costs. This is where Nicky Morgan shows a complete misunderstanding of the way that music/music technology is taught.
    How can students learn and develop performance skills sat behind a computer screen with class sizes of 40 or more? The main emphasis seems to be on reducing contact time spent with students, so they are taught a large proportion of there course on line.
    I am really glad I am no longer teaching in FE and I am certain that music will no longer be taught after this September at the campus I worked at. This means that a 3.5 million pound extension added to the college for music and media, with dedicated soundproof rehearsal rooms will probably end up being use as IT rooms.
    Whilst I realise that this is not that relevant to article, I hope it reflects some of the reasons why many music lectures in FE have had enough. I thought that I would be teaching in FE for many years to come but I, like many others I know, have had enough of government interference.

  8. FE Lecturer

    Incompetence at the top accompanied by ignorance and arrogance is a sure route to disaster for any organisation including OFSTED. This organisation has already lost credibility and any independence from government. It is simply acts as a police force for government enforcing the latest government ideas and associated political correctness.

  9. Thankfully there are still people like Tony Davis who have the honesty and conviction to do the right thing. Thank you for sticking your neck out, many people shy away from standing up for what is right and just! Well done Tony!

  10. karen kelsey

    My family could not afford to let me to stay on at school or go to University but they were happy for me to enter FE after work. I was 15 when I left school to get a job. FE enabled me to stay in education.

  11. Samantha

    Having spent a year in sixth form at school, I was unable to develop with the subject I was best suited to as the school was unable to continue the course due to the lack of interest and low numbers taking it up.
    I moved on to college and the experience there I found was far superior to anything I had received whilst at sixth form. The music course provided not only gave me the classical knowledge but also allowed me to interact with the popular music course students in performance expanding my repertoire and giving me an insight to other genres.
    As an individual I was treat as an adult giving me a new level of confidence preparing me for life to come, even though sixth form at school was meant to be separate I was still seen as a child and not allowed to truly develop independence or self confidence.
    Had I not been allowed the opportunity to go to college and been made to stay at school sixth form I believe my education would have suffered as it clearly wasn’t the place for me.

  12. Some pupils just don’t ‘fit’ in a school situation post 16. Forcing these students to stay at school is counter-productive and disadvantages the other students, as the negativity and rebellious behaviour of their reluctant contemporaries prevents them from accessing the high quality education they value.

  13. Lynda Cole

    I would never had stood a chance at university if it hadn’t been for my local FE College. It gave me the confidence to get into art college which subsequently led to a postgraduate degree at Goldsmith College and a fullfilling career in teaching. The last thirteen years before retiring were spent as an inspector – Ofsted HMI. I was dismayed at the views expressed by the current chief inspector. Thank goodness Tony Davis, who unlike Micheal Wilshaw, presents the truth with evidence and has the guts and passion to carry on highliting just how important further education colleges are in post 16 education.

  14. Melanie Hunt

    As a former HMI and College Principal I am deeply saddened to see Sir Michael Wilshaw continuing to undermine the fantastic work undertaken by the FE sector. In tandem, he manages to undermine the strength of Ofsted – its evidence-based analysis – by publicising his personal prejudices. He has ready access to advice from a team of experienced inspectors. Sir Michael should listen more and talk less.

  15. Elaine Hunt

    I attended this keynote and as Tricia Hartley says in the article, it stole the show and was certainly well-evidenced. It’s also worth mentioning that he praised Ofsted for their focus in the 2015 CIF, the emphasis on ‘learners are curious’ in particular. Tony Davis has tremendous positive impact on the people he works with in FE, he really inspires teachers and offers them the support to improve outcomes for learners… What’s Wilshaw’s impact? I think Tony got it right.

  16. Tony Davis is one of the leading voices on FE, and as the convener of the Newbubbles National Conference and the line-up of speakers, I support Tony’s brave and honest assessment of the recent intervention by Michael Wilshaw. It is so important that those who believe in this marvellous sector continue to do our best to promote, enrichen and defend it against personal attacks and reactive public policy. Newbubbles is a voice for the sector that seeks to represent the views of practitioners and leaders and give platforms to new, exciting and innovative thinking that will do the sector proud. Tony Davis is an ambassador for everything that is good about FE, and he has the respect and backing of many of us who want to publicly challenge the stereotypical, unhelpful and false prospectus that some in government hold about the value of FE. We want the political establishment to hear us and recognise the unique contribution we make to millions of learners.