Chalkface bites back on morale

1st August 1997 at 01:00
Scottish delegates to the Professional Association of Teachers' conference in Glasgow led the way in asserting the need for self-confidence and high morale in a debate just before an address by Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector south of the border, who has the reputation of undermining teachers' self-esteem.

John Wilson, of Lochmaben primary near Lockerbie, proposed a motion calling on central and local government to recognise the importance of professional self-confidence. Teachers had to start believing in themselves as good practitioners in order to raise their morale. He lamented the media focus on "winkling out weakness".

Joan Reid, of Langlees primary, Falkirk, said that when she started in the late fifties "boys saluted, girls curtsied, all 40-odd of them in a class, and the syllabus was one sheet of A4 paper for everything". Education theories had come and gone, but one factor was constant, "the quality of the teacher. I get fair scunnered because of the reaction of the powers that be who say, we know most of you do a good job. I want to ask these people when they were last in a school apart from a photocall."

Susan Leslie, headteacher of Colinsburgh primary, Fife, said that the best way to tackle bad teachers was not to allow them into the profession in the first place. She backed the idea of a General Teaching Council for England and Wales like Scotland's and added that the two-year probationary period north of the border "weeded out" those who themselves decided that teaching was not for them. But Ivor Sutherland, the GTC's registrar, expressed disappointment at the "vagueness" of the consultation paper for an English equivalent.

Mr Woodhead won support when he admitted that the Office for Standards in Education which he heads had sometimes been "inhumane" in schools. He invited delegates to tell him if inspectors gave verdicts they disagreed with, and he warned that fast-track procedures to get rid of incompetent teachers needed safeguards against abuses by vindictive heads.

He admitted that some teachers had been given a lack of feedback and he pledged that the number of observations some teachers endured would be cut. Inspectors sat in on as many as nine lessons in a week in small primaries. "It is inhuman for an inspector to come and listen and then leave without offering comment. There ought to be a real professional dialogue between you and the inspector."

Mr Woodhead also said that teaching was "as much or more about praise and recognition as it is about naming and shaming". But those who had lost that "passionate enthusiasm" that the best of the profession displayed "might as well pack up shop and go home".

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