Return oversight of schools to local people, says Sir Michael Wilshaw

Local oversight of school standards is “just as patchy” under the government’s regional schools commissioners as it was under local authorities and should be returned to local politicians, the former Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw has said.

Speaking to The Guardian as part of a debate about Labour’s plans for a National Education Service, Wilshaw said the “massive expansion of the academies and free schools programme” has “marginalised local authorities and the role of local politicians”.

Though he said he was “no fan of local authorities”, Wilshaw said local politicians, and in particular England’s new network of metropolitan mayors, needed to “champion their schools and know what’s going on in their area”.

Wilshaw, a former academy headteacher who served as chief inspector of schools between 2012 and 2016, was broadly supportive of the academies programme during his tenure, often praising high-performing academies and trusts.

But in more recent years, he has become more critical of the system, expressing concerns about excessive executive pay and a lack of accountability. In his later years as chief inspector, Wilshaw demanded powers to inspect multi-academy trusts, something his successor Amanda Spielman has also called-for.

Wilshaw has also made no secret of tensions between Ofsted and the government’s network of regional schools commissioners, who until recently would also conduct inspections of schools, and were seen to be trying to replicate the inspectorate’s school improvement role.

Today, Wilshaw launched another attack on the schools commissioners, claiming they “seem to come and go with worrying frequency”. Several former RSCs are now in charge of multi-academy trusts, and these moves have prompted concerns about a “revolving door” between the Department for Education and academies sector.

“I’m no fan of local authorities because many of them didn’t sufficiently support and challenge schools when they had full control of the system,” Wilshaw told The Guardian. “My concern now is that local oversight of standards is just as patchy under the newly created regional schools commissioners, who seem to come and go with worrying frequency.

“We need local politicians, particularly the new mayors, to champion their schools and know what’s going on in their area.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Regional schools commissioners play a key role in helping academies and free schools to deliver a high quality education – working constructively and professionally with local authorities and Ofsted to ensure local systems work effectively.”