Or alternatively ... It's pandered to the angst of an insecure profession - and is partly to blame for it

10th September 2010 at 01:00
A certain former chief schools inspector remains unimpressed with our progress over the last century

CHRIS WOODHEAD, Chairman of Cognita and chief inspector of schools at Ofsted from 1994 to 2000

Forty years ago I used to look forward to Fridays. I would get to school five minutes early, nip across the road to the newsagents and pick up my reserved Times Educational Supplement. If I was lucky enough to have kept my free period, I would settle down after break and peruse the job adverts.

But, in my case at least, it wasn't just the adverts. Most weeks I would find a couple of articles which challenged my assumptions about teaching or introduced me to writers about education and ideas I had not previously encountered.

These days I never buy The TES and it is not because I am no longer looking for a job. I have skimmed the odd copy I have come across in school staffrooms, but that's about it for the past 10 years.

Why? Well, there is no polite way of putting this. During my professional lifetime The TES has gone down-market. It has become a populist rag which panders to the angst of an insecure profession.

Its views on the burning issues of the day (Sats, for example, or Diplomas, or free schools) are almost without exception predictable. Comment and news sections alike reflect the orthodoxies of the day in order to defend the educational status quo against criticism or change. As for intellectual challenge, tips for teachers are deemed more important these days than the serious discussions that excited me as a young teacher.

When I was interviewed for the post of chief inspector, one of my interviewers said in passing that the chief inspector was the spokesman for, and champion of, the teaching profession. I disagreed. The chief inspector of schools should, in my view, be the conscience of the teaching profession. He or she should report on what is going well and what is going badly. He should ask the questions, of teachers and of government, which need to be asked, however offensive some, perhaps many, might deem them to be.

So, too, should the editor of The TES. Education is a contested concept and The TES should be a broad church. It should deliberately seek out and publish a range of opinion in order to encourage real debate. No position should be sacrosanct. Everything should be challenged and, when necessary, ridiculed.

I ask myself, writing this: which came first, the chicken or the egg? Does the teaching profession have the professional paper it deserves or is The TES at least in part responsible for the failure of the teaching profession to act with professional scepticism? It is a bit of both, I guess, and it would certainly be absurd to single out The TES as the sole culprit.

To qualify as a teacher you have to jump through the Training and Development Agency for Schools's hoops. To become a head you have to accept the doctrines espoused by the National College. The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust peddles its personalisation agenda. Ofsted expects the boxes to be ticked.

Of course, everything conspires to extinguish any glimmer of independent professional judgment. That is why The TES on its 100th birthday must take serious and honest stock. The assumption that the paper will lose readers if it publishes challenging material is an offensive and patronising nonsense. The profession needs a properly professional paper as it has never needed it before.

For more on the TES centenary, please visit: www.tes.co.uk100


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