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Starve Woodhead of publicity, says union

Frances Rafferty reports from the more surreal fringes of the Professional Association of Teachers' conference. Headteachers have been advised by their union not to provide Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, with a public platform following a speech he made to the Institute of Directors criticising the quality of teaching in primary schools.

The advice follows Mr Woodhead's claims, made at a business and education seminar in London last month, that primary schools waste too much time on "colouring, pasting and sticking" at the expense of more rigorous learning.

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

The council of the NAHT last month gave Mr Woodhead a vote of no confidence. The union has now written to all branch and association secretaries advising them to deprive Mr Woodhead of the oxygen of publicity.

Gareth James, NAHT head of professional advice, said: "David Hart was very concerned about Mr Woodhead's remarks and has written to him saying so.

"The council has made it clear that its vote of no confidence was for Chris Woodhead and not for the Office for Standards in Education."

Mr Woodhead quickly became the bete noire of the teaching profession after becoming chief inspector. His comment on a BBC Panorama programme that 15,000 teachers should be sacked because they are incompetent did nothing to endear him to the profession. The mere mention of his name was enough to elicit hisses from members of the Professional Association of Teachers this week at their annual conference in Cheltenham.

The chief inspector was also criticised by Stephen Byers, one of Labour's front-bench education and employment team, at the conference.

Answering a delegate's question, Mr Byers accused Mr Woodhead of acting in a party-political manner incompatible with his position. He said his boast that he had visited Downing Street more times than Sanctuary Buildings was an indication of the sort of role he was playing.

The First Division Association, the inspectors' union, has also received complaints from its members that Mr Woodhead has compromised his independent status.

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