Letter: Teachers need sound policies, not Mr Blunkett's soundbites

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Sir: In your leading article "Please Sir, stop whining" (14 April), you castigate me for criticising David Blunkett and my association's members for voicing their concerns about the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). Please allow me to reply.

Last week, Mr Blunkett said one thing in the press release issued before he spoke at our conference, but something quite other in his speech itself. In his press release he said that as a last resort, a failing school would be shut down completely, and a new school opened with a completely new staff. It was that story your newspaper and others, understandably, ran and to which I reacted. I said that dismissing all the staff of the school would, under current employment law, be open to serious challenge from perfectly competent teachers inevitably caught in the ricochet of Mr Blunkett's blanket gunfire.

In his actual speech, Mr Blunkett made a quite different and far more sensible suggestion. He said that he was thinking rather of removing those teachers (often incompetent managers) who were clearly obstacles to a failing school's ever recovering and bringing in substitutes with a proven track record of success.

Once it is clear exactly what Mr Blunkett is saying, then my association will be very willing to enter into positive discussions with him about it. In the meantime, no problem will be solved by trading political soundbites when we should be developing sound policies.

As for Ofsted, in my conference speech I went out of my way to make clear that the picture was mixed. I referred to the nearly 65 per cent of ATL members who had found Ofsted inspectors to be professional, investigative and fair. We cannot ignore, and nor should Chief Inspector Chris Woodhead, that over a third had experienced what they felt to be rudeness and arrogance

Regular school inspection can be a powerful lever to jack up standards. I hope that it will become just that - but it needs to be a process which is publicly authoritative and credible, and respected by teachers also. There is a way to go.

Finally, it simply is not the case that my association has opposed each and every reform as you imply. ATL not merely welcomed teacher appraisal but played a key role in designing it. ATL strongly supports parental involvement in governing bodies. We are neither opposed to the national curriculum, nor to testing, nor to parents having information about the results. Even the Government accepts that our reservations about the league tables it originally proposed are well-founded. The tables have serious design flaws and it intends to modify them.

What a pity that an organisation of highly committed professionals cannot express public concern without being slated for whining. Morale in the teaching profession is, sadly, almost endemically low. It will be a challenge for all of us to restore it. Including you.

Yours sincerely,

PETER SMITH

General Secretary

Association of Teachers and

Lecturers

London, WC2

14 April

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