New beginning from the top to grassroots

4th July 1997 at 01:00
I was one of those fortunate enough to hear Michael Bichard, permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment, and the chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, Anthea Millett, (and let us not forget the splendid Newcastle chief education officer David Bell) at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' recent education conference.

Their openness was refreshing and the sense of a new beginning encouraging. In order for this new partnership with teachers to be productive, the veil of media myth covering the events of the past decade needs to be pulled aside and the reality behind examined.

It is teachers who make educational reforms work, even when they have misgivings about them. Some have made themselves ill doing so. They have, it is true, little enthusiasm for the over-hasty implementation of imperfectly conceived and inadequately funded changes which bring with them little evidence of benefit for their pupils. In this respect, teachers are likely to remain consistent.

The validity of teachers' criticisms of the early versions of the national curriculum and its associated assessment was eventually recognised. Teachers took the lead in demonstrating the inadequacies of the now abandoned nursery voucher scheme. Clearly, they have been right in urging caution over the nature and timing of the implementation of the proposed reforms of post-16 education.

Despite what others may tell him, Michael Bichard should hold firm to this belief - classroom teachers are not opposed to educational improvement. If he can assure his colleagues of this and persuade reformers to value our years of experience in the classroom then the new beginning may be set fair to be a new labour of love.

JOHN BEATTIE, Ilex, Clyst St Mary, Exeter, Devon

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