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An Inspector Writes

Q My work as a teacher trainer involves me, through in-service, in extensive curriculum planning with school curriculum co-ordinators and consultants. I am appalled by the numbers of headteachers who, time and again, reject or just ignore the curriculum guidelines and schemes of work developed by these hard-working and able teachers. Unfortunately, neither the teachers nor I have any confidence that Office for Standards in Education inspectors ever detect the true state of affairs in many schools where the heads fail to provide encouragement and leadership for dedicated staff.

A Fortunately I can say that my recent experience suggests that heads and their co-ordinators are working well together and are mutually supportive about what they perceive to be shared concerns. But, I aired your question with a representative group of teachers and was taken aback by the big proportion that supported your views, and the vehemence with which they did so. I even began to wonder uneasily whether your suggestion of inspectoral gullibility might not be justified in some cases very near to home!

There might well be sound reasons for heads to temper or discourage specific initiatives: a need to restrain enthusiasm in order to preserve an already established programme of action; to maintain targets realistically within the compass of teachers; to rein in unilateral action without reference to corporate planning. However, I cannot conceive of any justification for the behaviour to which you refer: so apparently brusque or negligent that it must have a most destructive impact on the confidence and enthusiasm of the individual teachers concerned, and the goodwill and harmony of the staff as a whole.

There are enormous issues involved here - of leadership and the responsibility that goes with it for the professional development and welfare of staff. But you are asking how inspectors might respond to such a situation and, indeed, whether they might even hit on the truth at all.

I am confident that any inspection, driven by the obligation to know precisely about the nature, quality and extent of the school curriculum, how it is put together, about individual and corporate responsibility for it and so on, would identify the real concerns you describe.If there are heads who wish to discourage staff initiatives for the sake of a quiet life, then inspection will intrude very rudely upon what would be a fool's paradise.

But I don't think the kind of situation you describe should be allowed to continue until a fortuitous inspection chances upon it. I suggest the teachers you work with should be encouraged, as a group or whole staff, to make their heads aware of their disappointment and disquiet, and seek a positive resolution of the matter. To allow such behaviour to continue would condone quite inappropriate professional conduct. Might I also suggest to any of the large majority of heads for whom such behaviour would be unthinkable and who chance upon this answer, that rather than reacting indignantly to implied aspersions upon their calling, they show it to their staff as an indication of how much better things are managed in their school.

Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him co The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.

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