Shocking pink is new green

9th February 2001 at 00:00
WHAT a difference a year makes. Last February saw Chris Woodhead's final annual report as chief inspector of schools. This week, new chief inspector Mike Tomlinson presented his first.

Comparing and contrasting the two publications is a fascinating exercise. The substance of the detailed chapters is practically identical, but in style and interpretation the reports are light years apart.

Where the Woodhead glass was half-empty, Tomlinson's is half-full. Where the Woodhead adjective of choice was "rigour", Tomlinson's favourite is currently "tremendous". Where the final Woodhead annual Exocet was bound in sombre school-uniform green, the Tomlinson version is shocking pink.

The starkest differences lie in the reports' commentaries. Both chief inspectors begin by noting continuing improvement. For Woodhead, this is "steady, if unspectacular". A year on, Tomlinson points out that "changes in a single year are rarely dramatic, nor should they be expected to be". He then details just how much teaching has improved since 1994, observing that these "significant improvements" have been achieved through the "hard work and dedcation of headteachers and teachers, supported by local authorities, governors and parents".

He even says - wait for it - "There is, therefore, much to celebrate in the trends in our education system."

Both reports say there is no room for complacency: but Woodhead does it in his second paragraph, Tomlinson in the seventh. Tomlinson closes with a matter-of-fact list of priorities for OFSTED, where Woodhead signs off with something suspiciously close to a rant about exposing "the emptiness of education theorising that obfuscates the classroom realities that really matter, to tackle bureaucratic excess and financial waste, and... continue to raise expectations of what is possible."

It would be wrong to assume that OFSTED is going soft, but there is clearly a new approach which will feature more carrots than sticks, praise where it is due and a lowering of the political heat. History may judge that Woodhead's style was right for a time when education needed fast improvement. But at a time of higher standards, lower morale, and concern about teacher supply, a different tack is needed. It's time for Tomlinson.

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