Prince loses out on geography at Eton

Inspectors praise top public school, but say some lessons are didactic and boring. Judith Judd reports
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The Independent Online
TEACHERS at Eton, Britain's most famous public school, have been complimented by inspectors on their scholarship but told to use less "chalk and talk".

An inspection report on the 558-year old school, which charges parents pounds 14,000 a year, is generally positive but says that some teachers tend to lecture their pupils and should vary their teaching methods more.

The report also takes issue with the way the curriculum is arranged. It points out that geography is not offered to boys in their first year at the school, and only for two periods a week in the following year.

Pupils are praised for their "exemplary" behaviour and high attainment though they are "sometimes apparently lacking in intellectual curiosity." Boring lessons are usually to blame for the fact that they are at times too reliant on their teachers' guidance. In dynamic lessons they are much more critical.

The inspection was carried out under the public schools' self-inspection regime with a team mainly of independent school heads and teachers led by a retired member of Her Majesty's Inspectorate. Inspectors praise teachers' "high standards of professional knowledge and scholarship" and high expectations but add that "in many departments, while strong expository teaching was widespread, consistent attention to aspects of teaching methods ... could be deficient".

In modern languages, for instance, "in many lessons, the over-dominant part played by the teacher reduced the role of the pupils to simple reaction rather than active participation."

Boarding at Eton is impressive, says the report, with housemasters who are "immensely caring and knowledgeable about their charges". There is a wide range of extra-curricular activities including sub aqua, windsurfing, philosophy and wine-tasting.

John Lewis, the school's head, whose leadership is highly praised, said teachers were already examining their methods as part of a programme of professional development. But he pointed out that the traditional methods criticised by the inspectors were often effective: the modern languages department achieved outstanding results. "I recall the comment of a head who was told that lessons in his school were didactic. He replied that that was a jolly good thing too."

On the curriculum, Mr Lewis questioned whether the inspectors had grasped the merits of Eton's unconventional timetable. Geography was left out in the first year because nearly all pupils did French and Latin GCSE in two years. That allowed them a very wide choice of interesting and challenging subjects once they reached their GCSE year.

Asked whether he thought the report was fair, he said that the inspectors had done a thorough job. "We were very pleased with many of the findings. It shows that this is a hard-working, committed school with boys who are wanting and expecting to go places. But it is only a snapshot. It is primarily an academic report. We didn't feel they fully grasped the importance of what goes on outside the classroom in a boarding school or understood some of the things which are individual to us."