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Search for a scapegoat meets with rap on the knuckles

Blaming teachers and teacher educators for national ills is a waste of time, resources and nervous energy, Sally Brown, vice-principal of Stirling University, told delegates.

Professor Brown, who runs the education department at Stirling, said it was up to schools to establish trust between teachers and pupils. "Just as teachers' morale is affected by the knowledge that they are trusted (or not) by others, so is that of pupils," she said.

The key "failure" in the Ridings case in Halifax was an unequal battle with a selective grammar school and two partly selective grant-maintained schools, Professor Brown suggested. It was effectively an old-style secondary modern whose former head believed pupils and teachers were "treated like lepers".

Professor Brown was critical of Government approaches to managing and evaluating schools. "The promotion of a self-critical, self-evaluative stance is very important. But that is not easy to achieve unless people are confident that identification of their own strengths and weaknesses will not result in some kind of punitive action." Turbulence caused by multiple pressures for change led to the "falling in a heap" syndrome.

The only praise Professor Brown accorded the Government was for the 5-14 programme which she described as "a profound move in the right direction", especially for special needs pupils. She did not agree with the current testing regime but said teachers had to be accountable for their assessment.

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