Fresh start after fear

10th November 2000 at 00:00
RESPONSES to Chris Woodhead's resignation have been as extravagant as they have been diverse. Glee within the profession and alarm in the right-wing press he manipulated with such aplomb show just how potent a symbol he had become.

By skilful lobbying and polemical utterances, Woodhead managed to represent himself as a guarantee of standards for those who regarded teachers as idle, silly or complacent. Even Number 10 took the absurd view for a while that only Woodhead could be trusted to raise standards.

Teachers, like most people, need to be led, not driven. But Woodhead, by his own admission, chose fear as the chief means of raising teachers' expectations. It was hardly surprising that he evoked widespread loathing in the staffroom. Indeed, he courted it - to confirm the profession's resistance to public accountability.

Teachers had yet to grasp that, with the creation of OFSTED, chief inspectors were no longer colleagues at the pinnacle of the profession but public watchdogs paid to enforce the political imperative of higher and more consistent achievements. And because they were not, for the most part, idle or complacent but dedicated, hard-working and, in many cases, fighting uphill battles against social, economic ad cultural forces inimical to learning, they took it personally. In a few tragic cases this led to suicide. But many more good teachers were simply driven out.

Now, with the political costs of children being sent home for lack of teachers threatening to outweigh any advantage from keeping Chris Woodhead in power, the Government needs a more sympathetic figurehead - and an inspection system which leaves teachers inspired rather than expired.

The debate on that fresh start has already begun in The TES, where it will continue over the next few weeks. It is significant that the opening voice should be from the General Teaching Council. But no one should imagine that scrutiny of school and teacher performance will ever again be a professional closed shop.

The TES bids farewell to Chris Woodhead. Like John Patten, who appointed him, he filled many columns. Moving on to stroke the prejudices of disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells and working for a PR company seem appropriate to his talents. But it's a pity he did not feel able to take on some other challenge in public service, such as sorting out Railtrack. Then his former colleagues might have been able to say that, like Mussolini, at least he made the trains run on time.


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