Hart's broadside aims left and right

31st May 1996 at 01:00
A stinging attack on the Government, Opposition politicians and the Office for Standards in Education was launched this week by David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers.

In his address to the association's annual conference, Mr Hart railed against hypocrisy, U-turns and double talk as he warned of continued hostility to key stage 2 tests and called for nursery vouchers to be scrapped.

He claimed OFSTED was at risk of being a professionally bankrupt organisation and had become a gravy train with registered inspectors earning more than Pounds 80,000 annually - three times as much as the average primary head. And Mr Hart said that as the profession worked positively in the drive for higher standards, Chris Woodhead, its chief inspector, was producing counter-productive statements.

"Gillian Shephard may have said of the chief inspector 'I am not at war with him. I am at one with him'. The reality, I suspect, is that she would dearly like to play Henry II and ask 'who will rid me of this turbulent priest?' And I can tell you this: if she did, her call would be answered by a hell of a lot more volunteers than the four who responded 825 year ago."

He accused Mrs Shephard of yielding to the right-wing of the Conservative party in having performed the most spectacular U-turn with her decision to publish performance league tales at key stage 2.

Something miraculous appeared to have happened, he said, between January 25 when she repeated her undertaking not to publish until the tests were bedded down and February 5 when she decided they had.

"The fact that February 5 coincided with the publication of OFSTED's annual report was, of course, purely coincidental," said Mr Hart. "So Mrs Shephard should not be surprised if schools revolt at such bare-faced opportunism and oppose any performance tables at key stage 2 for the 1996 tests."

The national curriculum at key stage 2 had to be stripped back to core subjects and technology to free up half the timetable, he said, to enable schools to decide for themselves how to deliver the rest of the curriculum.

Mr Hart accused both the Government and the Labour party of failing to make any real commitment on funding as he called for a national funding formula and attacked the system that has allowed Doncaster to spend Pounds 300 per pupil less than Birmingham on its primary and pre-primary pupils and Pounds 600 less than Liverpool on its secondary schools.

And he said: "Government and Opposition should cease trampling over teachers in their drive to show which party is the tougher on standards." An opinion poll last December had shown that two-thirds of parents were generally satisfied with their local state school. "Obviously this is not the definitive answer but it does give the lie to those, including the leader of the Opposition, who recklessly brand the education system as failing."

In future Government had to recognise that most teachers were hard-working, dedicated and often talented. It had to place greater emphasis on parental responsibility and cut down on curriculum overload. "The education system is working on a shoe-string budget with the good will of its employees stretched tighter and tighter," said Mr Hart. "The fact that we have seen higher and higher standards in many schools, despite the propaganda to the contrary, is a credit to the professionalism of school staff and their leaders". He said the Conservatives must come clean on their future plans for the GM sector and that they should rethink the decision to spend another Pounds 100 million on assisted places.

Mr Hart likened Labour's plans to persuade people from business and the media to become teachers in an attempt to alleviate staff shortages to putting sticking plaster on a gaping wound.

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