Schools chief attacks `elitist liberals'

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The Independent Online
CHRIS WOODHEAD, the Chief Inspector of Schools, today rounds on liberals who have accused the Government of squeezing creativity from the curriculum.

Mr Woodhead, whose office is independent of the Government, writes in The Independent backing David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, who yesterday lambasted "the blatant elitism of well-intentioned liberals".

Their attack underlines the anger in Whitehall over sniping from progressives who believe the Government's campaign to raise standards puts too much pressure on young children.

Mr Woodhead is scathing about those who hark back to a golden age when teachers and pupils were free to do their own thing. Then, between 20 and 30 per cent of lessons were not up to scratch, he points out. Now, 50 per cent of lessons for junior school children are good.

"So much for the golden days of professional autonomy before the lives of teachers were blighted by the tyranny of tests and targets," he says. He describes as "nonsense"claims by David Almond, winner of the Carnegie Prize for children's literature, that the focus on tests and targets is crippling children's imagination.

Inspection evidence shows the teaching of music and art in most schools is now better than the teaching of geography, history and religious education. "If we want creativity, we must do everything we can to drive up standards in literacy and numeracy," he says, adding: "Why do some educational experts think it is wrong to expect five-year-olds to be able to count to 10 and write their own names when most parents want exactly this for their own children?"

Mr Blunkett told the Confederation of British Industrythat people who attacked the Government for introducing goals for five-year-olds and homework guidelines in primary schools "would never apply their views to their own children, only to other people's". Mr Blunkett defended himself against charges that the emphasis on tests and targets has led to a "nose to the grindstone treadmill" which is stifling children's imaginations.

Mr Almond accused the Government of wanting to assess children while they were still in nappies. But Mr Blunkett said those who called for more creativity wanted a return to the "ill-disciplined, anything goes philosophy that did so much to damage the last generation".

He said well-intentioned liberal parents "believe it's right to read a bedtime story to their own child, but think homework for other children is damaging. They think their own children should reach the high standards recommended in the Literacy Framework, but they believe it damages other children's creativity. They would be appalled if their own child couldn't count up to 10 at the age of five but think it is far too much for other people's children."

Mr Blunkett singled out academics from Durham University who questioned the benefits of daily homework for primary children. The Government recommends parents should read with young children for 10 minutes a day, and 11-year- olds should do 30 minutes' homework a night.

His speech is the first of a series to emphasise the Government's progress in different policies. He pointed to the falling number of failing schools, success in reducing class sizes for 300,000 children and fewer exclusions from school, all backed by record investment in education.

Teacher training applications were up in maths by 37 per cent and in physics by 33 per cent on the Government's offer of pounds 5,000 golden hellos. Last year there was a 21 per cent drop in graduates training to be French teachers. In the previous two years, recruitment to modern foreign language courses dropped by 8 per cent.

Ignorance of past, page 7

Chris Woodhead, Review, page 4