Chief inspector targets professors

27th February 1998 at 00:00
An outspoken attack launched by Chris Woodhead, chief inspector, on professors of education and teacher-trainers shows just how secure he feels in his position at the heart of Labour's standards crusade, insiders say.

While Mr Woodhead always uses his annual lecture to tease the "educationa l establishment", his remarks this time were more personal and directed against colleagues and members of Government task forces. Mr Woodhead, whose contract comes up for renewal in the autumn, appears to enjoy the esteem of the Prime Minister and education ministers, in particular standards minister Stephen Byers. His relations with David Blunkett are a little cooler.

In his speech Mr Woodhead warned that the Government's standards policy would founder unless the reforms addressed "the real heart of darkness - the trivialisation of culture and erosion of belief in the intellect". The worst offenders were in university education departments.

His attack on Professor Robin Alexander of the University of Warwick, whom he accuses of "an excess of academic unworldliness" was the most surprising, as they were joint authors of the 1992 Three Wise Men report advocating reform of primary education. Professor Alexander was also recently appointed to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Professor Alexander said afterwards: "The notion that professors of education are at the heart of some conspiracy to deny children their right to a proper education is plainly ludicrous. It is a novel experience to be pilloried as part of Chris Woodhead's progressive conspiracy. Previously I have been portrayed as a right-wing reactionary."

The chief inspector also accused Professor John MacBeath of Strathclyde University, a member of the standards task force, of "intellectua l shoddiness" and of dismissing with "contemptuous indifference the idea that education is about teaching the young and ignorant things that they need to know if they are to grow a little wiser".

Professor Mr MacBeath told The TES: "As a member of the task force, I'm obviously committed to standards and I'm all for intellectual clarity. Rhetoric doesn't raise standards."

Other targets included Professor Tim Brighouse, joint deputy chair of the standards task force with Mr Woodhead; Ted Wragg, Professor of Education at Exeter University and Margaret Hodge, chair of the Commons Education and Employment Select Committee.

After the lecture, Mrs Hodge said: "He damages what he says because it is not clearly based on evidence. The effectiveness of similar bodies like the Audit Commission comes from the fact that they can always point to the evidence."

Mr Woodhead warned against giving too much power to local education authorities. "I am worried by the signs that some LEA officers and members are relishing the prospect of involving themselves in all 'their' schools with a great deal of enthusiasm. "

Meanwhile, a book on the history of the inspectorate published this week by John Dunford, former president of the Secondary Head's Association, criticises Mr Woodhead for failing to keep the chief inspector's office independent of Government policy. He says there was a "remarkable congruence" between the office's findings and the views of...the Conservative party". He said the same situation existed with the Labour Government.

Failing training schemes, page 8

ofsted's antidote,page 17

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