Leading article: Educating the teaching unions

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The Independent Online

Is "Naming and shaming" appropriate in the world of education? The National Union of Teachers says not, pointing to two new surveys it has commissioned which suggest that schools identified as "failing" by the authorities find it harder to retain and recruit staff. One in four teachers reported suffering from increased ill-health when their school was threatened with closure.

The NUT has half a point. The system for measuring the relative performance of the schools of England and Wales certainly has some flaws. It fails, for instance, to reflect the different challenges presented by the intake of different schools.

A school serving a deprived inner-city area might be doing a tremendous job in getting the best from its pupils, but still be judged unsatisfactory because less than 30 per cent of achieve 5 A-C GCSE grades.

The process of ranking schools also encourage teachers to game the system to move up the "league tables" that appear annually in the newspapers. Drilling students in the art of question-spotting is an effective way of getting them to pass exams, but it does little good for their overall education. There has been far too much teaching to the test in recent years.

Yet the idea, apparently being pushed by the NUT, that it would be better to allow schools to throw a veil over their shortcoming is profoundly wrong-headed too.

The Government's attempts to compare the performance of various schools might be clumsy, but in as much as they are intended to give parents information about the schools in their local area, they are justified. The system should be modified, not scrapped. And those schools which are genuinely failing should not expect to be able to conceal it from parents.

The teaching unions sometimes give the unfortunate impression of believing that the primary purpose of schools is to provide employment for their members.

It is not. The primary purpose of a school is to educate its pupils to a satisfactory standard. And the best way to achieve this is to put as much power and information as possible into the hands of parents.

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