Ofsted boss tells heads to assert authority over pupils and teachers during conference in Hackney

Sir Michael Wilshaw, former headteacher of Mossbourne Community Academy

Sir Michael Wilshaw, former headteacher of Mossbourne Community Academy - Credit: Archant

The head of Ofsted called for headteachers to take back control and assert their authority over pupils, when he spoke to a conference of senior leaders in Haggerston yesterday.

Sir Michael Wilshaw was a guest speaker at Hackney Learning Trust’s Journey to Outstanding conference, which saw delegates from across the country gather to find out about how improvements were achieved in Hackney schools over the last decade.

Sir Michael reflected on his time in Hackney, where he worked in the 1970s before returning and becoming the principal of the country’s first academy, Mossbourne Community College.

He said that strong leadership is vital in building outstanding schools and cited political leadership and local authority support as a key factor in Hackney’s success at the conference in the Tomlinson Centre in Queensbridge Road.

He said: “Some teachers simply will not accept that a school isn’t a collective but an organisation with clear hierarchies and separate duties. While it’s true that we all share a common purpose, our responsibilities are not the same.

“There is absolutely nothing wrong in my view in saying to youngsters: ‘Do as I ask because I am the adult, I am older than you, I know more than you and - by the way - I am in authority over you’.”

Jamie Duff, spokesman for Hackney National Union of Teachers (NUT) which represents 1,800 teachers in the borough, disagreed. He said: “Forcing young people to respect authority and hierarchy for its own sake has potentially dangerous consequences. What does Wilshaw want schools to produce - subservient, compliant automatons ripe for exploitation in the labour market?

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“We want young people to be able to critically engage with the world around them and this may involve at times questioning and challenging authority. We are not arguing for no rules or boundaries in schools but a productive relationship between the teacher and the pupil that is based on mutual respect and shared purpose. Yet again Wilshaw is imposing his outdated ideas onto schools without listening to the teaching profession.

“Education works best as a collective endeavour. Teachers share classes and are backed up by support staff and managers. Any attempt to create an ‘us and them’ culture between teachers and senior managers will not work. It will lead to demoralised staff and a high staff turnover. It is the atmosphere of collective endeavour and mutual respect between professionals that produces the best results. Schools are and should be seen as communities in which everyone’s contribution is recognised and valued.”

Around 30 teachers from Suffolk, who are partnering with Hackney as part of their Raising The Bar programme, attended and took part in a series of workshops led by members of staff from the borough.