'Ofsted inspections are means of state control'

15th May 2009 at 01:00
The former chief inspector tells The TES that teachers are being forced to follow politicians' agendas

Ofsted inspections have turned into an "instrument of state control" forcing teachers to follow politicians' agendas, according to the former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead.

Writing in today's TES, Professor Woodhead says teachers have become puppets rather than professionals and are frightened of speaking against the Government. He is also critical of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, which he labels a "millennial sect" promoting impenetrable jargon.

Professor Woodhead revealed earlier this month that he had motor neurone disease, and that he will be publishing a swansong book next Friday criticising England's education system.

The chief schools inspector from 1994 to 2000 said he was concerned that Ofsted was checking whether teachers were following the Government's "personalised" learning drive and its Every Child Matters agenda.

"I do not think that inspectors should drag the Government's educational beliefs into the classrooms they visit," he writes. "When they do, inspection becomes an instrument of state control."

The professor, who is chairman of the private school company Cognita told The TES that inspections had started to become politicised under his successor, Mike Tomlinson, and it had been continued by the next chief inspector, David Bell.

"I always saw Ofsted as a mirror to the schools and we weren't prescribing solutions," he said. "It's ironic, really, because the teacher unions used to complain vociferously and never-endingly to me that Ofsted never told schools what to do - well, I didn't think Ofsted should tell schools what to do."

Professor Woodhead said he knew many teachers and heads shared his concerns about schemes such as Every Child Matters, which he described as "vacuous", but feared for their promotion prospects if they spoke out.

In his book, A Desolation of Learning, he accuses the Government of "lobotomising the teaching profession so that every teacher thinks and acts in the same way".

He admitted he had contributed to this problem as a past chief executive of the National Curriculum Council. "But I've changed my mind and become very sceptical about the national curriculum," he said.

He said he feared changes to the secondary curriculum, introduced last year, were even more prescriptive, while Sir Jim Rose's recommendations for the primary curriculum were "nonsense".

His book says teachers need to recognise that some pupils will never be as bright as others and that their background can be part of the reason. Earlier in the week, he sparked controversy by telling The Guardian that a child's genes were "likely to be better if their parents are teachers, academics or lawyers".

Professor Woodhead said he stood by his comments. "Nature coupled with nurture does have a profound effect that means it is more likely that children from disadvantaged homes are not going to make the academic progress children from middle-class homes make," he said. "But that does not mean I'm not interested in such children - I'm as deeply interested as anybody on the left, just my solutions to their plight may be different."

Chris Woodhead, page 37

Sympathy, jokes and motor neurone

"I've had a huge number of letters because of the motor neurone business. It is quite touching the number sent by schools I visited and teachers I bumped into over the years, as well as past pupils and students.

"I know a few people who are going to say, `Thank God the bugger's going to die.' I noticed on one newspaper's website a bloke had written, `It looks like the laws of natural selection are working.' (laughs). So I'm not pretending there's a universal outbreak of sympathy.

"I get depressed - it would be dishonest and stupid to say otherwise. I'm in Wales and I can see the rolling hills and I would give anything to be climbing on those cliffs, but I can't.

"One email was from a family whose son was paralysed in an accident in his twenties. I'm 62 - so who am I to complain, really?"

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