Damned by faint praise of top civil servant

27th June 1997 at 01:00
Perhaps the remarks of Michael Bichard to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference (TES, June 20) did indicate a willingness by the Department for Education and Employment to be more open and dove-like.

What is regrettable is that this civil servant has not yet realised that attacks on Chris Woodhead come from many sources other than teachers, not for personal reasons but for his incautious public statements and failure to consider teacher morale. The chief inspector's crusade has been conducted in a manner likely to lower the very standards he seeks to raise, by casting doubt on the competence of most teachers when he spotlights the worst 3 per cent anonymously.

Mr Bichard himself damns teachers with faint praise when saying, "many do an excellent job and most of them want to"; a more sensible statement would be "most do a good job and all of them want to". Excellence has no meaning if it is the property of the majority and should never be expected of everyone. To say, as he does, that teachers are hostile to reform may be true, but only because most of the reforms of the past 10 years have been ill-prepared and rushed in against the professional advice of the teachers.

Writing as a non-teacher, with two teenage children and a wife who teaches, I hope that our leaders soon realise that raising educational standards demands greater support and respect for the personnel doing the job and more pressure on parents and pupils to fulfil their side of the bargain. Over-emphasis of the need for "excellent" teaching just encourages the lazier pupils and their families to excuse their poor performance by blaming the teachers regardless. Mr Woodhead's critical comments have often supplied spurious backing for such lame excuses.

TED GUYVER 41 Meon Road Mickleton Chipping Campden Gloucestershire

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