De Gruchy speaks in favour of Woodhead

Teaching unions in conference: NASUWT delegates urged to listen to words of chief inspector, while NUT wants him sacked
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The Independent Online
Chris Woodhead, Chief Inspector of Schools and a hate figure for teachers across the land, is not so bad after all, a teachers' union leader said yesterday.

In a statement which flies in the face of opinions held by many members of his own union and others, Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, urged teachers to relax and listen to some of what their bete noire had to say.

The chief inspector, head of the schools watchdog Ofsted, is widely seen as a bogeyman by members of the profession, who reject his public criticisms of teaching and standards. Their resentment peaked when he said last year that there were 15,000 incompetent teachers in English schools.

However, Mr De Gruchy, who claims never to have lost faith in the traditional teaching methods favoured by Mr Woodhead, insists that it is the chief inspector who has shifted his approach to one more in line with teachers' reasonable concerns.

The same argument was used by Labour when Tony Blair, the party's leader, confirmed earlier this year that Mr Woodhead's job would be safe under a Labour government.

Mr De Gruchy's unexpected re-evaluation came just as delegates at the NASUWT's conference in Bournemouth overwhelmingly agreed a motion condemning the "expensive, bureaucratic and negative" aspects of Ofsted. Among a series of changes, they called for inspections to be carried out by "a truly independent body which is not influenced by government philosophy".

Speaking after the debate, Mr De Gruchy said teachers should listen to Mr Woodhead, even though he had "poisoned the atmosphere of education debate with some of his comments".

The chief inspector's call for a return to the traditional whole-class method in place of "trendy" child-centred ideas would mean less work for teachers, he said. It would also help them argue for extra resources, since with so many recent government reforms requiring schools to meet pupils' special educational needs, whole-class teaching was now almost impossible.

One Essex school, Mr De Gruchy said, had a class in which 16 out of 36 youngsters had special needs, and each had to have a personal plan. "How on earth can you have 16 individual education plans and then teach by the whole-class method? It just doesn't work."

The chief inspector's annual report, published last January, had contained 95 per cent positive statements on how schools were doing, the union leader said. He had produced a poster pulling out 20 upbeat quotes from the report to distribute among members.

Mr De Gruchy's remarks place yet more distance between his association and the National Union of Teachers. At its conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, which ended yesterday, the NUT voted for Mr Woodhead's sacking and the abolition of Ofsted.

NASUWT members may have fundamental reservations over the workload implications and negative tone of Ofsted inspections, but they want the agency reformed not scrapped.