The bogeyman who won't shut up;Last Word

6th March 1998 at 00:00
Forgive me while I finish putting on my costume and make-up. Now where's that thick black cloak? Ah, there it is. And where did I put my big black broad-brimmed hat? I had it only a minute ago when I was sticking the spirit gum on my curly black moustache. Yes, got it, next to the heavy black boots. Right, I'll just slip on my boots and sinister mask and then I'll be ready to go out and frighten a few people.

Sorry to keep you, only I have been reading the newspaper accounts of Chris Woodhead's annual rant, I mean lecture, to which, for some reason, I was not invited. Apparently the chief inspector attacked schools in general, and three professors of education, Robin Alexander, John MacBeath and myself, in particular, as being responsible for the poor quality of garden gnomes.

No, wait a minute, let me just check what he actually said. Ah yes: "The real heart of darkness, by which I mean the trivialisation of culture and the erosion of belief in the intellect which has destroyed the life chances of so many children." I say, steady on, Wooders old son. Have you been skim reading Matthew Arnold again?

Matthew Arnold was a schools inspector, so perhaps Woodhead sees him as a role model. The irony is that, in his book Culture and Anarchy, Arnold attacked the "philistines" in Victorian society for lacking "sweetness and light", as good a description of the Office for Standards in Education as you could find. He was a very human inspector too, no advocate of the Gradgrind philosophy that OFSTED espouses nowadays.

Anyway, Prince of Darkness, Phantom of the Opera, that's me: the sinister Victorian figure looming out of the midnight mist, who skulks around trivialising culture and eroding belief in the intellect. So I thought I might as well dress up for it.

Woodhead implies that I want to replace subject disciplines in the curriculum. No I don't, as he would know had he read my book The Cubic Curriculum properly. School subjects are actually the first dimension of the curriculum model that I put forward. There is a whole section on the importance of subject knowledge.

Anticipating that some idiot might distort the model, I even wrote in the preface: "I hope no one will do mischief to it. For example, I am at pains to point out that subject matter is very important and this is not diminished by taking a look at other aspects of the curriculum ... No doubt some skim reader will ignore these warnings." Unfortunately, some skim reader did.

Robin Alexander is also misrepresented. "Does Robin Alexander really believe that any individual will be empowered in the 21st century if he or she has not learnt to read?" Woodhead asks.

No, he doesn't believe reading is unimportant, nor did he ever suggest such a loony idea. What is more, I have never met a single person on the entire planet who believes this, largely because anyone who did would probably have been locked safely away.

The annual lecture is worth close inspection, for it had a curious mish-mash of an agenda. The bizarre title of the talk was "Blood on the Tracks". "Blood", for goodness sake? What is going on here?

Woodhead began by pointing out that it was his fourth annual lecture, saying: "Who knows? If David Frost works his habitual alchemy on the Prime Minister we might soon be heading towards double figures."

I assume this is a little joke. It surely cannot be an attempt to bounce the Prime Minister into renewing his contract for another five years when it comes up for review in the autumn, given that it was on the Frost programme that he originally said Woodhead's job would be safe after the election.

Is it pure chance that two of the people misrepresented, Robin Alexander and myself, are attacked as members of the board of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority? According to Woodhead, the next national curriculum must "conform to the curricular emphasis and pedagogy of the literacy and numeracy strategies", - that is teachers must not only be told what to teach, but how to teach it.

He wouldn't be trying to dragoon the QCA board into sharing his nostalgia for a Victorian back-to-basics curriculum, would he? Well he is wasting his arrows on me.

There are numerous ways of constructing a curriculum and I prefer to listen to the many intelligent points of view that people can offer, rather than submit to the first and loudest noise.

But let me end on a helpful note. The right-wing tabloids love Woodhead's rants. So here are Ten Facts You Never Knew About Professors Of Education. They: * rattle your television aerial so that snow spoils your favourite programme; * stand in front of you in the bank, paying in pound;3,100 in 1p and 2p coins; * phone during a meal to offer a camping holiday in Salford if you buy double glazing; * knock your glass over in the pub; * cause volcanic eruptions like the one in Montserrat; * widen the hole in the ozone layer; * blast the ball high over the crossbar during the sudden death penalty shoot-out; * park too close to your front and back bumpers (that's usually Robin Alexander and me, working as a twosome); * seal up the little hole in the tops of salt pots in cafes; * alter the Birmingham OFSTED report (only kidding, we don't do that).

Anyway, I'm just off to trivialise a bit more culture. From time to time I shall put on my Prince of Darkness outfit and leap out suddenly on Woodhead, crying: "Look out! There's a professor of education on the loose. Run for your life. Here comes the bogey man. Whooooooooo!!" It may not stop him on his irrevocable path towards ruling the entire universe, but bugger it. He won't shut me up.

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