Wilshaw’s focus on teachers and teaching rather than learners and learning is misplaced

Sir Michael Wilshaw has launched an online at-a-glance report card for each school, which he wants governors to use to hold head teachers to account. And in order to incentivize them he wants govenors to be paid. So having ‘blamed’ teachers, then headteachers he now blames those governors who are “ill-informed” and “not able to make good decisions” for their failure to improve educational standards.

In the philosphy of science, for obvious reasons, this strategy is labelled degenerative problem shifting. So the question is why Wilshaw can’t see that this is a futile approach, destined not to achieve the objective of rasing pupils’ academic performance.

Perhaps the answer is simple. As the son of a postman he will be familiar with the practice of delivering the post to designated recipients. His mental set, as is much of the government’s, is then on delivery of policy and targets. However, the verb ‘to deliver’used to be used with reference to tangible objects. Now it has been used with intangible objects as well. One example suffices: David Cameron said the 2012 Olypmics could be summed in two words “We delivered!”

So what is it that Wilshaw feels that teachers, headteachers and governors are failing to deliver? It is their simplistic belief that it is their perfectly designed curriculum! So they frame the ’educational’ problem as the ‘practical’ one of identifying faults in the delivery system.

Were Wilshaw to adopt a conceptually different, progressive problem shifting model, typified, by analogy, with the research facilities at Daresbury Science & Innovation Campus he would have to change his mental set and support instead professionally driven curriculum evolution.

The shift from delivery to evolution however doesn’t sit easily with politicians who have lost the link of  ‘politics’ with polis and equate it more with power. And how better to illustrate the fact that one has power other than to exercise it by telling, inducing or forcing others to do what one wants rather than at worst allowing and at best encouraging a self-regulating system to evolve?

This shift from teaching to learning (pupils and teachers) entails involves identifying those conditions which induce optimal learning. And here this pedagogic (rather than political) approach requires no further research! The answers have been known for generations: stimulate then satisfy the curiosity of pupils. This approach is in direct conflict with Wilshaw’s focus on effective and charismatic leadership -qualities which Hitler and Stalin, to quote just a few evidenced!

About petermathews

Member of the Royal Society of Medicine
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