Chief inspector should place problems in context of achievement

10th May 1996 at 01:00
Whatever the detailed merits of his case in the "storm in the OFSTED tea-cup" (TES, April 26), more generally it would be hard to deny that the chief inspector of schools has an image problem with the profession, resulting from the lack of balance in his appraisals.

Thus when drawing attention to the achievements of teachers there is a parenthetical feel to his statements: a somewhat academic "of course we must in fairness recognise that 80 per cent of lessons are satisfactory or better", or words to that effect. Whereas in his more frequently publicised critical and derogatory pronouncements, giving the media and the politicians exactly what they want, there rings the powerful conviction of the witchhunter. While no doubt not a member of a right-wing think tank, he sounds as though he is.

Part of the "profoundly important responsibility" he affirms is surely to celebrate achievement. The evaluative documents of his organisation testify to much greater strength than weakness in the system. To take one example. The 1989 HM inspectorate report on primary geography and history teaching found standards in geography satisfactory or better in only 25 per cent of infant and junior departments, while in history the figures were 20 per cent and 33 per cent respectively.

In the OFSTED subjects and standards report for 1994-95, by contrast, 80 per cent of lessons in primary geography were satisfactory or better, and nearly 25 per cent were good or very good, both in key stage 1 and key stage 2. The OFSTED figures were more or less the same for history, as they were for the core subjects. Obviously these averages conceal serious problems which the chief inspector and others rightly wish to address, but let the weaknesses be consistently placed in the positive context of publicly and officially highlighted improvement.

PROFESSOR WE MARSDEN Department of education University of Liverpool

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