Woodhead spares praise for teachers

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The Independent Online
Teachers resentful at constant attacks on their performance were yesterday offered a taste of rehabilitation when their arch-critic, the Chief Inspector of Schools, acknowledged that they deserved more praise and accepted that some inspectors had been "inhumane".

Chris Woodhead's olive branch to teachers in his first speech since the general election in May came as the Prime Minister revealed the government plans to award honours to headteachers who successfully turned round failing schools.

But lest teachers should envisage a rosy future of knighthoods and warm words, Mr Woodhead - best known for his willingness to estimate the number of incompetent staff in English schools - swiftly followed his concessions with a reiteration of the need to root out and sack bad teachers as fast as possible.

Speaking on the first day of the Professional Association of Teachers' conference in Glasgow, the chief inspector outlined plans by the schools watchdog, Ofsted, to modify some of its procedures after criticism that teachers were left in the dark over their performance by some inspectors observing their lessons.

"Good [inspection] teams have always given feedback," Mr Woodhead said. "To leave the room and leave the teacher not knowing what the inspector thinks is inhumane."

Steps would also be taken to remedy "over-inspection" of some staff, particularly in small primary schools, and Ofsted would set up an independent appeals panel to adjudicate on complaints of unfairness. There would be more training for inspectors to ensure that teams had the expertise to assess all aspects of the curriculum.

"Teachers deserve a lot more praise and recognition than in the past, and I think these developments will bring more praise," Mr Woodhead said. He added: "It is as much or more about praise and recognition as it is about blaming and shaming."

However, the chief inspector also made clear his view that the naming of bad schools was an essential part of the government's drive to improve educational standards. Shortly after coming into office, ministers published a list of 18 failing schools considered to be improving too slowly.

Nothing the Labour government had done had been "out of order", Mr Woodhead said. He even appeared to claim some credit for the new Labour philosophy of pressure as well as support, claiming it might have "based upon old Ofsted".

Government proposals to introduce fast-track sacking of bad teachers would undoubtedly see more teachers being dismissed, he added. But, while there was no Utopia, a solution to the problem of teachers unable to do the job might be in sight. Under the proposals, out to consultation until 7 October, the worst teachers would be dismissed within a month.

Teachers yesterday gave a cool reception to proposals to reward successful heads with knighthoods, suggesting fatter pay packets might be preferable to gongs.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Teachers will not be excited at the prospects of knighthoods for one or two headteachers. The vast majority of the country's half a million teachers deserve recognition for their on-going professional commitment and support they give to their pupils. Most will see the Prime Minister's gesture as just another gimmick."

Gareth James, senior secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he thought better pay and conditions would provide better motivation than the prospect of honours. "Most headteachers and teachers would rather have their efforts recognised through the pay they receive, their conditions of service, and the respect which the profession is accorded." he said.

It was ironic that at a time when the Government seemed increasingly intent on denigrating teachers, it was proposing to honour them, he said.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Women Teachers, described the awards idea as "zany". "It dishonours the education system and makes a bit of a nonsense of the honours system," he said.

John Andrews, Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) general secretary, said: "Teachers want to feel that the work they are doing is being valued. Part of the problem is the perception over the past few years that if there is a problem in society let's kick the teacher ... The underlying message of the awards is of recognition for teachers and that can only be a good thing."

However, Michael Barber, the Government's adviser on standards, condemned the call for more pay. The honours plan was part of the Government's strategy of balancing pressure and support, he said. "Honours are part of a wider attempt to really find ways of celebrating the profession's success. There is going to be big visible praise."