Outraged by the chief inspector

1st March 1996 at 00:00
Once again Chris Woodhead lambasts poor teachers, saying that those without the proper commitment should get out.

How long can this constant battle of half truths continue? How can it be that no one in these lofty positions of power can actually see what is happening on the ground in every school in this country?

This job is harder now than it ever was because teachers are being forced to teach what they don't believe in. Pupils appear at secondary level with a range of high-flown projects, unable to write, read or listen attentively.

The national curriculum was forced on to the workforce, and now we are all reaping the consequences. In addition, reductions in spending mean we are teaching larger classes with less support.

Why are so many junior and primary teachers retiring early from stress-related illness? Why is there a rush of secondary teachers to take advantage of early retirement once the "magic" age of 50 is reached?

These are just the teachers you need to provide stability and expertise, and they are constantly lost in a battle to balance the books.

I have taught English in a range of secondary schools for 28 years. I have never known such a sense of outrage, at what is happening in schools today. Even 10 years ago, one felt that each school could use its own flexibility in the curriculum to provide for the wide range of pupils in its charge. Why is it now that there are more exclusions of disaffected pupils for whom the schools offer nothing but examination courses at GCSE?

Who is listening out there? I knew Chris Woodhead as a gifted, coherent and progressive English adviser. How does 10 years, and a multi-magnified salary make him suddenly the critic of the basic mainstream of thought and activity in most of the schools in the country? Can we all be wrong?

Ten years ago, my mixed-ability Year 7 class had four or five poor readers, to whom I could direct attention at regular interval. Now more than half of a class of 30 have low reading ages and an inability to write in sentences.

Baker, Clarke, Patten, all blustered through their reforms and disappeared into the well-heeled lobbies of politics. Only now, years later, do the result of their short-term thinking and "sound-bite" philosophy come to light.

League tables of exam results at GCSE and key stage 3 and 2 only serve to illustrate the inequalities of the system. Anyone with half a brain could have seen that years ago, but we were fed this nonsense that testing would provide "rigour" and improve standards.

Testing in itself does nothing of the sort, it is a mechanism to teach what our "guardians" think we should teach. Ask any teacher of English what they think of the suggested reading lists for key stage 3, and they'd suggest it was written by a group of reactionaries trying to remember what they had to suffer when they were at school 30 years ago.

Yet it still goes on, and every week teachers bow under yet another attack on their collective self esteem. "Teach morality", "Teach sport", "Return to basics", "More of the didactic less of the trendy" . . . the list goes on.

The experienced teacher selects from a range of activities and models to try to complete the desperately difficult job of enlisting the interest and co-operation of large classes of "street-wise" "video-tuned" "seen-it-all-twice" pupils, who are as critically alert as any Office for Standards in Education inspector.

Finally, I am told that large class sizes make no real difference. Ask anybody who has ever stood in front of any class - ask the caretaker - and this is what the public actually believe of us in the state school system?

It's a joke. Ted Wragg is the only one who sees it. Teachers, stand up for your rights and your self-respect. Write in, please, in your thousands and thousands. Tell them how it is. They don't believe me.

G HEYS Head of English in a Midlands comprehensive 7 Laburnam Drive Madeley,Telford

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