'Shoddy' lessons come under fire

James Montgomery reports on the Institute of Directors' seminar on business and education held in London last week. Primary schools waste too much time on "colouring, pasting and sticking" at the expense of more rigorous learning, chief inspector Chris Woodhead believes.

Renewing his campaign against "intellectually shoddy" teaching, Mr Woodhead told the Institute of Directors' seminar on business and education in London last week that "a lot of children are bored in weak lessons by the monotony of their experience".

He added: "I want to see lessons where there is much more expected of the children, where teachers are teaching in a more active and direct way. I think the fun in going to school is to be stretched, being exposed to things you can go forward with. What I want to see is art that is really exciting and rigorous and developmental."

His remarks angered the National Association of Head Teachers, whose general secretary David Hart described them as "an outrageous attack" and "deeply offensive to primary heads".

"The picture of primary schools that he seeks to paint is pure fantasy and out of touch with the reality of teaching in this day and age. The chief inspector is in danger of entering the political arena to an unacceptable degree and is clearly hell-bent on imposing his own personal agenda in a manner which is distinctly unhealthy for the education system," he said.

Mr Woodhead stressed that the criticism did not apply to all primary teaching - inspections by the Office for Standards in Education suggested about 20 per cent of classes were unsatisfactory.

Yet while there were some outstanding schools, he was aware of "an increasing frustration about the lack of progress that is being made".

He blamed a resistance to change within the educational world which was not used to being held publicly accountable, and an understandable hostility on the part of teachers and educationists to criticism.

Too often, those who should be leading the process of reform from within had the most to lose - they would prefer to turn the clock back.

While there was no evidence of extremely progressive methods in the state sector, Mr Woodhead said many primary teachers still resisted didactic techniques in favour of "liberating the latent potential of the child". While such methods "did not result in children swinging naked from the trees", they "waste time with an excess of colouring, pasting and sticking".

Intellectually shoddy ideas had to be challenged if standards were to improve, Mr Woodhead insisted. Making inspections more supportive, as critics demanded, would simply reveal "the school's own evaluation of itself".

Turning to teacher training, he was worried that courses were not "sufficiently focused and practical". He said: "It is not enough for students to be exposed to the different theories of how children learn to read; they need to be told what works and the way to do it."

The development of a core curriculum for initial teacher training would "expose whatever is woolly and inadequate in those who exert such a profound influence on the teachers of today and tomorrow".

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