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PETER HITCHENS: How a former head of Ofsted did for schools what Gerald Ratner did for his cheap tat


Not since Gerald Ratner destroyed his own jewellery business in 1991 by saying openly that its products were ‘crap’, has anyone so completely upset his own industry as Sir Michael Wilshaw did last week.

But we now know for sure that the respected verdicts of England’s mighty, dreaded Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) are in fact so much piffle.

Sir Michael, the former chief inspector of schools, has described as ‘complete nonsense’ Ofsted’s judgment that almost nine out of ten state schools in England are good.

Ofsted’s most recent figures claim that 88 per cent of schools were found to have been either good or outstanding by the watchdog at the end of last December. The figure has been around the same mark for several years.

Sir Michael, warning that the official ratings were giving false comfort to parents, told MPs: ‘Ofsted says that nearly 90 per cent of schools are good. That’s complete nonsense… When I’ve been into some of these schools and then I’ve seen the [Ofsted] report, I’ve felt like going to Specsavers and getting another pair of glasses.’

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former chief inspector of schools, has described as ‘complete nonsense’ Ofsted’s judgment that almost nine out of ten state schools in England are good, writes PETER HITCHENS

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former chief inspector of schools, has described as ‘complete nonsense’ Ofsted’s judgment that almost nine out of ten state schools in England are good, writes PETER HITCHENS

Thanks to Sir Michael, anyone who cares about the dismal level of education in this country must realise this is the end of a 60-year official pretence that comprehensive state schools can be made to be good

Thanks to Sir Michael, anyone who cares about the dismal level of education in this country must realise this is the end of a 60-year official pretence that comprehensive state schools can be made to be good

Sir Michael is very unlike Gerald Ratner. He does not make jewellery or cheap decanters. But anyone who cares about the dismal level of education in this country must realise this is the end of a 60-year official pretence that comprehensive state schools can be made to be good.

This form of schooling was imposed on England, Scotland and Wales by dogmatic egalitarians in 1965, and, despite the collapse in standards which followed, has never been reconsidered since.

More than half a century of watered-down exams, failing discipline and cruel inequality between rich and poor have followed. The truth is that all-in mixed ability schools will always be worse than academically selective schools.

There is now striking evidence that the long-slandered secondary modern schools, where most were educated before the change, were in many ways better than the comprehensives that replaced them.

Good education is based on selection, rigour, discipline and tough examinations which many will inevitably fail. Take these away, and the school will be about as much use as a violin without strings or a bicycle with no wheels.

Sir Michael has the courage to blow the whistle on the uselessness of Ofsted. Who will have the courage to return to selection by ability instead of the selection by wealth that we have now?



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