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Enough is not enough as Mr Bell asks for more

The chief inspector's annual report on the national literacy and numeracy strategies, had us all running to our dictionaries last month. What does "satisfactory" mean? Good enough or not good enough? "In a stubborn core of around one in three lessons, the teaching is satisfactory," says David Bell (who is clearly not satisfied), "and it is unsatisfactory in approximately one in eight lessons in both subjects." Has Mr Bell moved the goalposts?

We spent years learning to accept that when HM Inspectors said teaching was "satisfactory", it was praise. Now it is criticism. The Oxford English Reference Dictionary definition is: "1. adequate; causing or giving satisfaction (was a satisfactory pupil). 2. satisfying expectations or needs; leaving no room for complaint (a satisfactory result)." So it's a flexible word. But the first definition is "adequate". Is that good enough? Do we want "adequate" teaching and learning?

Mr Bell's relegation of the word "satisfactory" to the third division was bad PR. It made teachers feel that they were again being blamed for society's ills. Much of the merely "satisfactory" teaching was with the lowest-performing 25 per cent ("There are not enough lessons where the quality of teaching is good to be able to improve standards for the lowest-attaining pupils, around one in four, who do not gain level 4 at the age of 11"). The report also seemed to be blaming teachers for following Government prescription - to be rated even "satisfactory", they now need to stretch beyond the superficial traits of the literacy hour.

Nevertheless, he is right. Good enough is not good enough. After all, who would advertise that their school was "good enough" in their prospectus.

DH Write to

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