As I mentioned in briefing on Monday, I spent last Friday and Saturday listening, amid an audience of 1,500 secondary school leaders to two of the dominant figures of the current educational scene – Michaels Gove and Wilshaw.
Conspiracy theorists were speculating beforehand that the 45-minute refreshment break was strategically arranged so that, following recent spats, M&M weren’t actually on the stage together – nor had they much chance of passing one another in that cavernous auditorium of the NEC Hilton.
Yet what we saw – even when separated by an elongated tea-break – revealed a lot about the current direction of educational policy, just over a year before the next general election.
Michael Gove was up first. I wasn’t close enough to see him in close-up. This may not be a disadvantage. I had heard some hotel helpers earlier saying, “It’s him; he’s here”, in tones that hinted of genuflection.
Me, I sat under a Big Brother-style screen halfway down the hall from which Michael, and his celebrity interviewer, the journalist David Aaronovitch, glowered down. David had adopted the dress-code of the journalist – the Clarksonesque open shirt and casual jacket. Michael Gove was in – depending whether the big screen’s resolution was quite accurate – a Lib Dem yellow shirt and blue tie.
And from where I sat it felt as if something today had changed. What we got was an interview that was sometimes interesting but marred by chuminess. There were questions about school finances, about relationships with the profession, about the confusion over assessment, plus comments about the pace of reform.-
It was as if, like Shakespeare’s Propsero, the magic had deserted him and his mind was now elsewhere. Either that, or – judging by the amount of water he knocked back – he has a heavy cold.
Next, it was Sir Michael’s turn. The tone he has set as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector has too often been corrosive and carping. But today he impressed. Ofsted had to change, he told us. This was a sign of the nation’s improved schools and the need for a more grown-up relationship. He delivered his usual censorious messages – “Ofsted is there for parents, not for the profession” – but he also revealed, for the first time to my eyes, what must have made him an outstanding headteacher.
He dealt with the questions; he made his mark. He gave a sense that Ofsted was reinventing itself for the next phase of our nation’s educational development.
With Michael Gove – perhaps because the questions didn’t probe the stalling of the free-school initiative and those murky questions about academy chains – it was a glimpse of the past, not the future.
So there we are: one afternoon, one view of two Michaels, and one sense that whether it’s in government policy or Ofsted’s new relationship with the profession, the tectonic plates of education are shifting again.
Below is a link to Michael Wilshaw’s speech