"There is no need to fall into our age-old habit of talking ourselves down. We already have a great deal of success to be proud of, and much of it is due to the efforts of schools," said the Education and Employment Secretary at the North of England Conference in January.
Quite right, but has the Office for Standards in Education got the message?
Without underestimating the importance of raising achievement, we share the increasing concern about the chief inspector's deficit assessment of performance: saying the glass is a quarter empty when it is three-quarters full, and emphasising the weaknesses of a small minority of unsatisfactory teachers rather than building on the strengths of the large majority.
We now find that three London education authorities went positively into a joint study on reading with OFSTED only to be disenchanted by the final interpretation the chief inspector has headlined.
Gillian Shephard's words have added point now that the prospective shortage of teachers has been officially recognised. When are we going to hear distinctive praise from OFSTED about the year-on-year improvements teachers have brought about in GCSE results and the sustained improvement in the performance of primary pupils? Otherwise why should bright young people opt to join a beleaguered profession? Surely, between us we can find a better way than current OFSTED approaches, which are reminiscent of the simplistic payment-by-results of the Victorian Revised Code.
LEAs and their chief education officers are ready to lend their experienced hands for we are not all complacent. We recognise the need for continuous improvement and we believe in the importance of external inspection.
But it must be consistently conducted and fairly reported. There is an urgent need to work with OFSTED in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect, and to do so before headteachers and teachers lose faith in the value and integrity of inspection.
Such a constructive approach would not prejudice the objectivity of OFSTED. It could make it more credible.
ROY PRYKE Chairman Standing conference of chief education officers Springfield Maidstone, Kent