And the greatest of these is clarity

17th May 1996 at 01:00
I have been desperately looking for a bit of clarity. In the confused and confusing world in which we live, a clear analysis is like an oasis, a refuge from the wilderness that surrounds it. How can education be improved? Are standards going up, down, or in circles? Are teachers a gang of wild trendies? ls Woodhead a Klingon? "More light" as Goethe said, just before he snuffed it.

There is not much clarity about whether we do better or worse than other countries. It depends what you look at. Most international comparisons tend to be based on maths tests. There are comparisons in other subjects, but they are harder to do, as everyone has a different history or science syllabus. But then, the same applies to maths. Our maths coverage tends to be wider than is the case in many other countries, so the kind of maths test given by the researchers is crucial. We usually do very badly at "number", but not so poorly in "geometry".

You can gain a bit of clarity by observing classrooms at first hand in other countries. The German system is often praised uncritically, yet I have seen some brain-corrodingly ineffective teaching in German schools. On the other hand German vocational education is very impressive, and many teachers are good at getting high standards of work out of lower-ability children.

In the so-called Pacific Rim, I have seen lessons where the level of industry was formidable, but where there was not one jot of appeal to children's imagination. Small wonder that some of these countries are now keen on "individualism", realising that endless copying does not produce an inspired adult. If there were an international league table for "imagination" I would expect us to be very high in it. We are the inventing capital of the world, but are useless at exploiting our imagination.

I was very interested in the study of education in Taiwan reported in The TES a couple of weeks ago. Taiwanese children do better than us at maths, so what was their secret?

Apparently teachers and pupils are encouraged to go to sleep for half an hour during the school day. I have occasionally felt drowsy while watching someone else's lesson, but never actually nodded off in one of my own, so that could be an interesting experience.

We were also told that Taiwanese teachers enjoy high status. Yet they have complained at having to collect urine samples. Could this be related to higher pupil achievement? British teachers have low status in the eyes of politicians, and they are more used to being peed on than actually collecting the stuff, but I was not clear why Taiwanese teachers had to do it. Perhaps it was to do with dope-testing. Talking about dopes, if the loony right-wing think tanks that advise the Government hear of the idea, then compulsory tiddling into a flask will probably find its way into the next election manifesto.

Still in quest of greater clarity I came across the most wonderful attempt I have witnessed for many an age. Indeed, not since the demise of the School Examinations and Assessment Council has there been anything like it. But as one SEAC closes another OFSTED opens, and our special chums the Office for Standards in Education have brought the concept of "clarification" to new interstellar heights.

You may well know that most heads and teachers have an uneasy feeling that their assembly is illegal and that they are responsible for personal, social and moral development, but are not always certain that what they are doing meets the "official" requirements nowadays.

Dear old OFSTED, ever helpful, has issued a statement to help us all understand. So hold on to your hat, because anyone not fluent in advanced Klingon may find it a little difficult to follow. The beginning is promising and upbeat: "Some confusion remains about the respective purposes and functions of Section 9 and Section 13 inspections in relation to religious education, collective worship and provision for pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development."

Yes yes, quite right, OFSTED, there is indeed some confusion, so clarify it for me. Go on, give it me straight. Get into top gear. Speak your wise words of clarification. Go for it. Hit me right there. I can take it.

"The provisions of Section 13 of the 1992 Act (as amended by Section 259 of the 1993 Act) cover denominational religious education and collective worship in voluntary and other schools. The inspection of pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development must be covered by the Section 9 inspection. However, Section 9 inspections must not cover denominational religious education or the content of collective worship where the latter falls to be inspected under Section 13.

"The strengths and weaknesses of the school's provision for the spiritual development of its pupils (Schedule section 5.3) and their response (Schedule section 4.2) should view spiritual development in the wider interpretation of the Framework. Pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development may also be included in the section 13 report if the inspector decides to cover this" Er, come again, OFSTED. If that is clarification, then please confuse me again. Ah, what's this? There's more. Thank goodness.

"There will be further expansion of this guidance in the Guide to the Law Occasional Paper which will appear during the summer term."

Phew what a relief! I can't wait. So that's it then. My quest for the ultimate clarification is over. We now know that the inspection of schools' splindongerous pongifiles and pupils' denunciated motorway cones must be dealt with under Segment 99.99 of the collective workshops mortality, and is thus clearly the responsibility of regimented introspectors doing a Segment at 9-13 am. Unless, of course, they decide otherwise.

Don't say you weren't told.

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