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Book of the week: Chris Woodhead's thoughts on education

An apocryphal story circulated shortly after Chris Woodhead's resignation as chief inspector. His successor, Mike Tomlinson, summoned Ofsted staff to a meeting to quell any incipient panic in the hearts and minds of a potentially desolate group of loyal followers who had just lost their great leader. "We shall carry on as usual except in one matter," he is said to have remarked. "In future, all our reports will be based on evidence."

Some of the reports that bore Chris's imprint confused assertion with argument and came to judgments that confused evidence with opinion -nbsp; so, like all good apocryphal stories, it was one easy to believe.

Class War: the state of British education by Chris Woodhead (Little Brown pound;14.99), promoted modestly on the jacket as a book "every parent should read", continues this tradition. Indeed, at one point the author disarmingly proves the point. "Are our schools getting better? Are standards rising? Yes, if you believe the statistics and the evidence."

But, as the reader by this time discovers, rhetorical questions tend with Chris to invite you to conclude, not with evidence or statistics, but with his own particular kind of logic. It is an invitation not too difficult to resist.

Class War is the tale of a battle-weary man who has spent a substantial part of his life single-handedly trying to save our schools. There are seven chapters, revealing his battles and campaigns on "Standards", "The Lunacy of Learning", "Teachers and Teaching", "Ofsted", "Local Education Authorities", "Universities" and "The Way Forward".

His broad thesis rests on a battle against what he calls "The Blob". "The Blob" represents everyone in education, other than Chris himself and a few lonely others.

The book ends with "The Way Forward". He opts for self-governing schools, vouchers and privatisation. One by one, he slays his dragons: local education authorities; the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority; the Department for Education; the national curriculum itself - off with all their heads.

  • Tim Brighouse is chief education officer for Birmingham
    • A longer version of this review appears in this week's Friday magazine

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