Relax, it's only your friend Mr Woodhead

Chris Woodhead, chief inspector and general bogeyman of the profession, won support from an unexpected quarter this week - the leader of the second biggest teaching union.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, urged his members to relax and listen carefully to what Mr Woodhead was saying.

He claimed the chief inspector's enthusiasm for a return to traditional whole-class teaching would help cut teachers' workload and help them argue for extra resources.

"Good teachers have no reason to fear OFSTED, they should be taking OFSTED much more in their stride," said Mr de Gruchy. "Instead everyone is so het up about (Mr Woodhead) that they miss a lot of interesting and potentially helpful things he has been saying."

He spoke out after the NASUWT's annual conference in Bournemouth condemned the expensive, bureaucratic and negative aspects of the Office for Standards in Education and questioned the calibre of inspectors.

Mr de Gruchy said Mr Woodhead had poisoned the atmosphere between himself and the profession by the subversion of his own report on class size and his campaign on incompetent teachers.

Resentment peaked when the chief inspector said last year that there were 15,000 incompetent teachers in English schools (he later revised the figure to 13,000).

But Mr de Gruchy said the annual report contained "good messages for teachers from their own bete noire - Chris Woodhead". These included questioning the need for pre-inspection work in schools and praise for "outstanding committed teachers".

Delegates heard calls for school inspection to be reformed to take into account social background and value added. Nigel Turner, a geography teacher in a Nottingham comprehensive facing inspection next week, said: "You could give our school all the resourcing, staffing, technology and inspirational teachers in the world for years and kids would never meet the national norms."

The conference heard of the devastating effect on staff morale of OFSTED inspections and delegates insisted they must be carried out by a truly independent body not influenced by government philosophy.

Sue Rogers, from Sheffield, wheeled a trolley on to the stage bearing 19 ring-binders- just some of the reports her school had to prepare for its inspection. She claimed staff at King Edward VII, where she teaches history, had spent the equivalent of 80 working weeks preparing documents. With the 15 inspector days, this could have provided another three-and-a-half teachers.

Terry Bladon, from the national executive, said a registered inspector had admitted that none of the team inspecting one comprehensive had ever taught GCSE or the national curriculum or had differentiated work for mainstream special needs pupils: "Hardly a situation to fill one with confidence."

But the NASUWT said anyone who believed that OFSTED could be abolished (such as the National Union of Teachers) was living in cloud cuckoo land. Instead, the system should be changed.

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