Schools chief attacks progressive methods

The refusal of teachers to change their progressive notions is the biggest barrier to raising standards, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools said last night.

In a highly controversial lecture, the first to be delivered by the holder of his post, Chris Woodhead lambasted both teachers and academics for clinging to a professional culture that barred whole-class teaching and emphasised skills rather than facts.

Mr Woodhead, who began his job as head of the Office for Standards in Education last October, took his stand firmly beside traditionalists with his indictment of progressive teaching methods.

The Chief Inspector is independent of the Government and has declared views which will infuriate teachers, at a time when Gillian Shepherd, the Secretary of State for Education, is trying to placate them.

Teachers, he said, remained hostile to teaching the whole class rather than groups despite research showing that the former was often easier and more effective.

They rejected the idea that children should be taught facts about their cultural heritage and they were doctrinaire about child-centred learning. They thought wrongly that education had to be relevant to children's background and they believed skills were more important than knowledge.

Mr Woodhead, one of the authors three years ago of a government-commissioned report on primary education, said: "What too often we have is an emotional commitment to beliefs about the purposes and conduct of education which militates against any genuinely searching educational debate."

Primary teachers were always telling him, he said, that education was about the child, not the curriculum. That was a logical absurdity.

"Why anyone should suppose that a concern to identify which aspects of our cultural inheritance are worth teaching should necessarily imply the adoption of the most tedious teaching approaches, I don't understand. Some teachers simply reject out of hand any concept of education which seeks to define that which should be taught as an entitlement to all children irrespective of their immediate wants."

Education should be the "disinterested study of the best that has been thought and said" but schools were often not fulfilling that aim.

Professors of education, he suggested, were biased in their discussion of education. They should be willing to give credit to government policies. "If a visitor from Mars were to scrutinise the arguments of leading professors of education, he/she/it would not, I think, come to the conclusion that [with a few honourable exceptions] their stance was one of complete academic neutrality."

A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said: "Teachers are very practical and concerned for their children. They mix and match their teaching methods to suit the children they are teaching and the buildings they are using. They use their professional judgement which Gillian Shepherd sets great store by."

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "At a time when Gillian Shephard seems to be winning the hearts and minds of teachers, Mr Woodhead, who is in a position far too eminent to permit naivety, makes a speech which could reignite the fire whose embers are dying out.

"Where are these dogmatic teachers? He should name them. His rhetoric detracts from the agenda of raising standards by scapegoating teachers. If he was in the private sector, Mr Woodhead would be sent on a long management training course."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor