Problems of a silent profession

4th August 2000 at 01:00
JOHN Bangs is surely right to point out (TES, July 21) that Michael Barber's Washington speech deserves serious debate as it will almost certainly be at the heart of Labour's next manifesto.

Mr Bangs is also right to point to the absence in Professor Barber's speech of any reference to bottom-up as opposed to top-down reform. Perhaps Professor Barber, and hence the Government, does not yet feel able to trust the profession to reform itself.

In November 1998, the Bridgebuilder project invited more than 2,000 primary heads to write accounts of the implementation of the literacynumeracy strategies in their schools; the accounts would be forwarded to Michael Barber as a contribution to the evaluation of the two strategies.

A good batch of high-quality accounts which analysed the situation in terms of children's education would blige the Government to think hard before introducing further similar initiatives.

A hundred or so responses would have constituted a "peasants' revolt" which would then have obliged the Government to finally start treating heads as serious negotiating partners.

In the event, three headteachers valiantly took up the challenge. Even so, Michael Barber has responded, assuring us that both positive and negative points have been duly noted. He also wrote: "We welcome and value highly such contributions."

On this showing, the problem is not a government that won't listen, but a profession which is either unable or unwilling to articulate its own educational goals. Can such a profession be ready to carry out bottom-up reforms?

Hamish Preston

Director, Bridgebuilder

42 Oaklands

Hamilton Road, Reading

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