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Ofsted slams victim culture

Schools chief says schools are not 'fun palaces ' and responsibility for educational success lies with parents and pupils. Jon Slater and Warwick Mansell report

Schools are not "fun palaces" - and parents and pupils must accept that they need to work hard for educational success, Maurice Smith, the chief inspector, said this week.

Mr Smith criticised those who portray parents and children as victims of a failing school system, and said the key to good exam results ultimately lies with pupils themselves.

His comments come as his deputy, Miriam Rosen, said almost all children should be able to get at least five A*-C grade GCSEs by age 16. Only children with learning difficulties are incapable of reaching the benchmark, she said.

In an interview with The TES, Mr Smith said parents and pupils have the right to a good education, but a responsibility to make the most of what is on offer.

He said: "What I object to is the type of commentary that always has parents and their children as victims.

"The only thing that is going to improve key stage 4 attainment are the kids in key stage 4. Of course, schools should be exciting and engaging places to be, but youngsters also need to understand they are going to work hard. A school is not a fun palace."

In return, schools should provide a high-quality curriculum, excellent teaching and instill a work ethic in children, he said. Some teachers say that pupils now expect to be told what to write for their GCSE coursework because they know their teachers are being judged by the results.

Last month, an anonymous psychology teacher wrote in The TES that too many staff are tempted to guide young people, and that coursework becomes virtually the adult's work.

Another teacher said pupils turn up to his classes expecting to be spoonfed answers because this was happening in other lessons.

The teacher said: "I feel the pressure and the sense of urgency, whereas they simply won't let any of it filter through, so instead I carry the burden of 30 or so lacklustre slackers."

Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector, said Mr Smith was wrong to focus on the role of parents. He said: "Children who do not learn to read are victims, and 25 per cent don't. The state education system has to take responsibility for its failures. To blame parents is not helpful."

Mrs Rosen, Ofsted's director of education, said schools should aim to help almost all children to achieve at least five good GCSEs.

She said this would require sustained effort from all in education with all groups of children, particularly the disaffected, who consistently underachieve at present.

She said: "With improvements over time, many more pupils should be able to reach the five A*-C target."

John Bangs, the National Union of Teachers' head of education, said: "This is an extraordinary statement. We need to get away from the obsession with five A*-Cs. What is absurd is that children who are late developers or who concentrate on a smaller number of subjects are being labelled as failures."

* jon.slater@tes.co.uk

News 30, leader 18, dear selwyn 30

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