Past popular

19th January 1996 at 00:00
The interview on The World at One, BBC Radio 4 on January 5 with the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Shephard, left me almost speechless. The latest theme in the Department for Education and Employment's campaign of criticism of the teaching profession is the statement that "20 per cent of lessons are unsatisfactory". By what standards, I wonder? If such is the case, are over-large classes a contributory cause? The education department currently dismisses any theory that class size matters. If so, why do schools in the private sector emphasise their small classes?

Mrs Shephard went on to state that teaching is an enjoyable profession, that she had found it so. An interesting comment - her teaching days were before the present set-up, and according to her Desert Islands Discs contribution, she taught for all of two years. She then added, in the Radio 4 interview, that teaching must be popular because vacancies are falling. If they are, might this be because schools cannot afford to employ the number of teachers they need?

I wondered why Mrs Shephard referred at least three times during the interview to the "independent inspectorate". To my knowledge HM Inspectorate was always independent. Much more so, I suspect, because the idea of political correctness had not yet dawned upon the educational scene.

It was John Patten who began extolling independence as one of the virtues of the new inspectorate. Yet in the booklet HMI Today and Tomorrow issued by the Department of Education in 1970, the first sentence reads: "Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools is so called to preserve historic continuity and because the title reflects that measure of independence which they have always exercised".

The rest of that first paragraph and the two following in the booklet summarise the nature of the independence that had been exercised by the inspectorate for more than 130 years.

BARBARA BROOK

Retired HMI

Wentworth Road

Aldeburgh

Suffolk

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