Mr Woodhead went on the offensive after new figures cast doubt on his 15,000 estimate by revealing that only 88 teachers from 4907 schools inspected since last April have been given the two lowest grades.
In the Commons, John Major told Tony Blair that he would not rule out making a new qualification for head teachers compulsory. His announcement came only hours after Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, had said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the qualification would remain voluntary.
Mr Major said: "I think I would like to see how it works but I certainly would not rule it out." Labour said his remarks were a further example of a split between Mrs Shephard and the Prime Minister.
Officials from Mr Woodhead's Office for Standards in Education said the 13,000 figure was a preliminary estimate based on primary school inspections between April and December last year. Mr Woodhead offered the new figure after saying that no comparison could be made between the old system, which produced 15,000, and the new gradings, which produced 13,000. He suggested the difference was largely explained by better teaching but also that his own inspectors might be partly to blame. Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman,said: "This is a goal-post moving exercise of quite amazing proportions."
David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Clearly the number of teachers who receive the lowest grades bears no relation to the numbers he described as incompetent a year ago."
Mr Woodhead's office has written to all inspection contractors to remind them to be tough on bad teaching. He is also considering a new inspection system which would mean that a higher proportion of teachers would be reported to the head for bad teaching.
In his annual report, Mr Woodhead said that schools were getting better as the culture in education changes. Questions were being asked, he said, about teaching methods.
More children were being grouped by ability and there was more whole- class teaching. "Primary schools are grouping their older pupils in ability sets for some teaching. Many are making more use of ability grouping within the class. In secondary schools, setting by ability is leading to more effective teaching," he said. More was also being done to take action against incompetent teachers.
However, he said standards needed to be improved in half of primary schools and two-fifths of secondaries. "The percentage of lessons judged to be unsatisfactory or poor [about 16 per cent] is an improvement on last year's figure [18 per cent]. That this figure remains as high as it does, shows that the old orthdoxies continue to exert their influence in too many classrooms." Big improvements were still needed in about one in 12 primary schools and one in ten secondaries. Lessons are worst for junior pupils.
Literacy and numeracy were still a worry, he said. Too many primary school children were not making enough progress.
Mr Woodhead did not suggest that the one in seven primary heads and one in ten secondary ones offering poor leadership should be sacked but he said: "The problems they are facing must be recognised and, if they are not making enough progress, governors and local authorities need to face up to the fact."
John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, pointed out that it was only in the last two years that the Government had begun to fund the kind of training for heads which had always been necessary. Mr Hart said there was no justification for making the new heads' qualification compulsory.
Both the Prime Minister and Mrs Shephard welcomed the evidence in the report of improving standards.Reuse content