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Private school training plea

Chris Woodhead believes the best schools should educate the best teachers. Biddy Passmore reports

LEADING independent schools should be given funds to train more teachers, according to chief inspector Chris Woodhead.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference in Bristol, he said this would help bridge the divide between the private and state sectors of education and ensure that good teachers would be trained far from the "superficially seductive rhetoric" of the modernisers in education.

Many independent schools were centres of excellence, he said, and it made sense to train the best teachers in the best schools. He later made clear that he was talking about both initial and induction training.

He also called on independent school heads to enter the "war of words" about educational values, speaking up for a traditional curriculum based on the transmission of a body of knowledge, and against those who spoke only of "transferable skills" and "competencies".

He said independent schools should "nag away at the exam system". If subjects they judged to be important were dropped from a syllabus, they should make "a great hullabaloo".

He also suggested that 14-year-olds who were bored with academic education should be able to drop most subjects and spend part of their week learning a practical skill like plumbing.

He said one of the key challenges in education was to devise a post-14 curriculum that stretched bright children while developing worthwhile vocational courses for those who had "gone as far - for now at least - as they are going to go".

"If we seek post-14 to impose common demands then we dilute the challenge for the most academically able and bore those who want, need and deserve something different," he said.

Forcing young people who had not succeeded in academic subjects to carry on with them would not increase their self-esteem or their respect for education. Such children should not leave school at 14, Mr Woodhead made clear, and should continue to study English and maths and some other academic subjects.

The Government's revision of the national curriculum allows children to spend roughly a day a week on vocational courses. But Mr Woodhead's proposals were far more radical.

Some of the vocational element could be taught in comprehensive schools but some would require the specialist teaching and equipment available in further education or the workplace.

But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said Mr Woodhead's proposals would simply perpetuate the academicvocational divide that had bedevilled English education for so long. "We have a spectrum of children, not two sorts of children," he said, "and we need a properly integrated system in which children can gather both academic and vocational qualifications throughout the post-14 phase."

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