You can rate a school in an hour, says Woodhead

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The Independent Online
AN HOUR'S visit is long enough for parents to tell whether a school is good or bad, Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools says today.

Writing in The Independent's special league table supplement, Mr Woodhead warns parents who are choosing a school to beware of heads who sweep past their pupils "with regal indifference" and to note whether pupils open doors for them.

Secondary school exam results for England produced by the Government, and published in the supplement, offer parents more information than ever before about state and independent schools.

Teachers yesterday dismissed Mr Woodhead's comments as "nonsense" and said that they showed how little he knew about what made a good school.

Mr Woodhead argues that parents will discover most of what they need to know in an hour-long walk round. "Talk to the head teacher. Try to find out what they believe in, what are they proud of in the school, where they think are the weaknesses... Do they talk to members of staff and children or do they sweep past with regal indifference?

"How do the children behave round the school? Do they open doors or do you have to flatten yourself against the walls?" Litter and graffiti did not "bode well". Mr Woodhead also suggests that parents should read schools' inspection reports and study examination results.

Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Mr Woodhead's idea is a nonsense. If you can tell a good school in the time he suggests he needs to explain why it takes his inspectors as much as five days when they they are compiling a report.

"It shows how little he understands about what makes an effective school."

The Independent's league tables rank schools according to the traditional yardstick of the proportion of pupils gaining five A* to C grades at GCSE, although this year the Government has introduced a new measure, the GCSE points score, which awards points for each grade.

The top comprehensive school on the first measure is Old Swinford Hospital, in Stourbridge, (98 per cent compared with a national average of 46 per cent) which takes mainly boarders, and the top on the second category is Thomas Telford School, in Telford, whose pupils achieved the equivalent of ten As - slightly ahead of the point score for Eton. Thomas Telford is also second on the first measure with 97 per cent.

The bottom comprehensive, Middleton Park in Leeds, where not a single pupil gained five or more good grades, is threatened with closure.

The London Oratory, where Tony Blair sends his children, is the fifth most improved school according to a new government list of pupils achieving five or more good grades.

At A-level, the best school in the country is King Edward's (Boys), in Birmingham, an independent school, where pupils gained the equivalent of almost four grade As each.

Most improved school, page 10,

Leading article, Review, page 3

Full league tables, 28-page supplement