Open letter by Judith Judd

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The Independent Online
Dear Mike Tomlinson, Knowing you as I do, I was surprised by your remark, after the publication of the Chief Inspector for Schools' annual report on Tuesday, that "I don't give a monkey's toss (or was it nuts?) for the teachers. All I care about is the children."

I've no idea how many irredeemably bad teachers there are - and I doubt you have, either - but most parents I meet complain that their children have been taught by a teacher who wasn't up to scratch at some stage in their career.

Like most parents, I think schools that fail to take action over bad teachers are unfair to children, and too many heads and governors have funked the job. Like you, I believe regular inspections raise standards, though I'm not sure the present system has the balance between stick and carrot quite right.

What worried me was the way you put your case. It seemed typical of the evangelical zeal that appears to be coming from senior inspectors when something more measured would serve children better. It's the sort of comment that Conservative ministers used to make before the present secretary of state for education, Gillian Shephard, had the sense to realise that hammering teachers' morale lowered rather than raised standards. Of course, teachers have to be prepared to face criticism from the outside world - and some of them aren't. But which parent wants their child to go to a school full of demoralised teachers? How can you change the things that are wrong in schools if you dig yourself into a trench opposite the people who work there?

The idea that there's an automatic conflict between the interests of children and teachers puzzles me. You wouldn't say, "I don't give a monkey's toss for the parents. All I care about is children." I know that your remark was made during a discussion about how many bad teachers there are; you have explained since that you meant that you don't give a toss about the bad ones. There are two problems with this. The first is that we know quite a number of the bad ones get better if they receive help. I understand that a study done by the Office for Standards in Education, where you work, shows this. It's clearly a mistake to write them all off, even if we could afford to do so without creating massive teacher shortages. We need to care about them if we care about the children they teach.

The second is that the message to the good teachers ,who greatly outnumber the bad, is depressing. Why struggle on in a job that has become much more demanding and stressful in the last two decades, if the people at the top are interested mainly in emphasising the negative?

The worst aspect of the whole business is its effect on children. All the international studies show that one of the biggest barriers to educational progress in this country is a culture that is anti-educational. We haven't persuaded a significant minority of pupils that learning makes sense. Respect for teachers is surely a vital part of that persuasion. If Ofsted's head of inspections can go round saying that he doesn't care about teachers, then why should rebellious 15-year-olds at the back of a GCSE maths class? The latter aren't likely to know or care whether their teacher has been graded one (top) or seven (bottom). That's why I do give a monkey's toss for teachers, and why I'm glad you have apologised since.

Yours sincerely, Judith Juddn

Mike Tomlinson is head of school inspection at the Office for Standards in Education. Judith Judd is education editor of `The Independent'

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