Former education chief criticises 'cavalier policy'

THE FORMER chief inspector of schools yesterday attacked the Government's education policy as 'cavalier in the extreme', and warned against increased political control over the curriculum.

In a speech to the north of England education conference in Blackpool, Eric Bolton, former head of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, accused the Government of destroying its own hard-won consensus over the national curriculum. He said ministers were turning the clock back towards O- levels, and ignoring the sincerely held views of teachers.

Professor Bolton, now working for the Institute of Education at London University, retired as senior chief inspector in 1992 after a lifetime reporting to ministers on the state of British schools. He has registered anxiety before over the recent direction of government policy, but yesterday's criticisms went much further.

There was a 'distinctive whiff of racial discrimination and prejudice' in the recent debate over the content of the art and music curriculum, he said. The Third Reich and Joseph Stalin's Soviet dictatorship only encouraged art which glorified their regimes. Although the situation in Britain had not yet reached that extreme, it was serious: 'dire consequences' could follow if present political interference persisted.

In the Education Bill ministers were almost exclusively concerned with encouraging schools to opt out. They were dismantling the system without offering an effective replacement, Professor Bolton said. Teachers' views were 'treated with suspicion or dismissed out of hand' by ministers, who avoided talking with anyone who might be mildly critical.

That accusation won support among those at the conference: they had already protested when John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, cancelled his address to the yearly event, traditionally the platform for a statement of government policy.

Mr Patten, who has not addressed a major education gathering since his appointment last April, is being accused of shying away from high-profile events.

Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for Education, said: 'Professor Bolton is clearly out of touch with what is really going on in education, and would appear to be firing a parting shot as a man who has lost his grip on educational reality and is now consumed by bitter recrimination.' Parallels with Nazi Germany and Communist Russia were 'offensive and patently absurd'.