Chalk Talk: Allow me to introduce the latest witchfinder of the classroom


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The Independent Online

The Independent reported in the summer how an American education expert who advocates sacking large numbers of incompetent teachers has earned a reputation as a "witchfinder general of the classroom".

Michelle Rhee had flown into Britain to pass on her experience to ministers and education officials – and Michael Gove indicated that her hard-nosed policies could well be adopted here.

Ever since we profiled her, there has been speculation as to who is most deserving of the epithet of "witchfinder general" within the British education system. Could it be Sir Michael Wilshaw, the new chief schools inspector? Or Glenys Stacey, head of the education standards watchdog. Could it be Gove himself?

Apparently, the answer is none of the above. It is Rob Behrens, the softly-spoken but steelily determined head of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator – the body set up to review student complaints. He told a conference in London last week that universities had privately given him the moniker.

But things have got better recently, he added, and now he is usually invited in for a constructive chat as the two sides resolve their problems.

However, with the number of complaints set to double by the end of next year – largely due to the rise in fees – many more campuses could be receiving a visit soon.

Normally I would treat a book with an official blurb which starts "John Izbicki has an exciting story to tell" with a pinch of salt.

Not, you understand, because it's about John – a former Independent columnist. It's just the sort of thing any self-respecting publisher would say about its protégé. In the case of the former education correspondent, his autobiography, Life Between The Lines, lives up to the billing.

An interesting read for its insight into the world of education in the two decades up to the 1990s, it deserves a wider audience than that – particularly for its description of life as a Jewish boy growing up in Nazi Germany and how his family fled the Gestapo.

I never thought the life story of an education hack could bring so many tears to the eyes. I commend it to you.