Inspection blues come to Hogwarts

27th June 2003 at 01:00
In the fifth Harry Potter blockbuster the magic is taken out of the lessons by a series of initiatives issued by the high inquisitor. Michael Shaw reports

A CRUEL school inspection regime, a dull curriculum and an overload of tests and ministerial initiatives, are the real horrors in the latest Harry Potter book.

Former teacher JK Rowling has made the UK's education system the main target of satire in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, after parodying journalists and professional sport earlier in the series.

The fifth book, the fastest-selling novel since records began, covers the school year in which 15-year-old Harry takes his Ordinary Wizarding Level (OWL) exams. Staff at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are seen teaching to the test, focusing on duller spells and magical beasts they know will come up.

Meanwhile, the school suffers from repeated intervention from the Ministry of Magic, which issues a series of restrictive educational decrees including a clampdown on extra-curricular activities. The ministers also send the sadistic witch Professor Dolores Umbridge to act as a new teacher of Defence Against the Dark Arts.

She literally takes the magic out of her lessons, instead introducing a "carefully structured, theory-centred, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic", complete with a series of bland course aims.

Matters become even worse when the ministry gives Professor Umbridge the new post of high inquisitor of Hogwarts and asks her to inspect the school.

("This is an exciting new phase in the minister's plans to get to grips with falling standards", a ministry spokesman announces).

The inspection upsets Professor Trelawney, the school's divination teacher, so much that she breaks down in class and is sacked for being unsatisfactory.

"It sounds very realistic," a National Union of Teachers spokeswoman said.

"Teachers have long been concerned that testing and the curriculum are taking the awe and wonder out of teaching."

The Office for Standards in Education has been keen to draw a line between its inspection approach and the high inquisitor's.

David Bell, the chief inspector, last week gave Hogwarts a positive report in The TES.

He said: "I would have grave concerns over the manner in which the Ministry of Magic's own inspection was carried out and would call into question the judgment of the high inquisitor."

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