Unlikely partners to reform schools

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The Independent Online
A school improvement group widely revered by the education establishment and a government inspector regarded as a bogeyman by teachers are being brought together on a new school standards tasks force being unveiled today.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, is to announce that Professor Tim Brighouse, director of education in Birmingham, and the chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, will be appointed vice-chairmen of the new body charged with spearheading the Government's standards drive.

The task force will be responsible for identifying and promoting "what works" in state education, senior government sources said yesterday - in line with Labour's intention to banish dogma and division in the crusade for higher education standards.

The combination of Professor Brighouse, whose wide-ranging educational initiatives have impressed teachers in his authority, and Mr Woodhead, a hate-figure among the profession after claiming 15,000 teachers were incompetent, will astonish many.

Professor Brighouse, who won an out-of-court libel victory over John Patten after the former Tory education secretary branded him "a nutter", is a long-standing critic of the schools' inspection regime under Ofsted, the schools' watchdog body headed by Mr Woodhead.

At an education debate in January, Professor Brighouse spoke of a "massive Ofsted caravan which is rushing around the country" and added: "We are living in a reign of terror."

The chief inspector's appointment to the task force, to be chaired by Mr Blunkett, is being seen by some observers as a means of limiting his capacity to criticise government education policy. His outspoken attack on teachers under the previous administration prompted accusations of politically motivated interference from teachers and the education establishment and embarrassed Gillian Shephard, when she was secretary of state.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, described the appointment as "a clear attempt to rein in the chief inspector". He said it was an attempt to bring him into the fold and ensure that "before he makes any of his over-the-top remarks he is required to discuss them with other senior people and this must be to the good of other people".

News of Mr Woodhead's role provoked outrage among headteachers last night. At the National Association of Head Teachers' conference in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, the union's general secretary, David Hart, said that the announcement would be regarded like a "red rag to a bull", which risked undermining the work of the new task force in the eyes of the teaching profession. However, he described Professor Brighouse's appointment as a "counterbalance" which would reassure schools that there would be no attempt to impose particular teaching methods on teachers.

t Mr Hart warned that a pounds 4bn black hole in education spending must be filled by the Government if attempts to drive up standards in schools are to succeed. He said the sum was needed to bring the UK in line with the average spent on education in other developed countries.

The education director and 'bogeyman' have their say

Sayings of Brighouse:

1988: "Of course you really believe in social justice and in kids escaping from mental slavery ... you have to provide the resources [for education] on equitable basis."

"It really can't be right that people can buy for their children more resource to enable them to be more able citizens. Children do have equal rights to become mature and contributing adults."

1995: "Perhaps this is a naive view, but I believe that everyone who goes into teaching or is involved in teaching wants to change the world for the better."

"Every political party is interested in school improvement and this is the major time on the educational agenda generally. How to keep schools on an upward spiral of achievement will help any party that has school improvements on its political agenda."

Sayings of Woodhead:

"Of course teachers' morale and self-confidence are important.But there's a crucial distinction between self-confidence and self-delusion. There is no point in having a teaching force high in morale but not teaching children very well."

"The problem lies not with head teachers but with people who purport to speak for the teaching profession whose reputations have been based on a partial way of thinking.

"Their whole academic status and credibility is now being questioned. Local authorities understandably feel defensive about their record. But the head teachers are listening."

"There can be no solution until the problems are acknowledged. For the first time, parents have access to reports at individual schools and are, therefore, in a position to make an informed choice about the school that is right for their child ..."