Tories hire Woodhead

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Chris Woodhead, who presided over the introduction of the national curriculum, has been hired by the Conservatives to rid it of political correctness.

Teachers heaved a sigh of relief when the former chief inspector fell out with the Government and resigned four years ago, but Professor Woodhead refuses to go away.

He has set up a chain of private schools, become a professor of education at Buckingham university, broadcast his views in the media and now he has been asked by the Tories to rewrite the curriculum if the party wins the general election.

The man "who schools love to hate" would launch a review within a month and report back with recommendations a year later.

Professor Woodhead has been the bete noire of the teaching profession since his announcement in 1996 that governors should sack 15,000 "incompetent" teachers.

He faced repeated calls for his resignation after it emerged that he had a relationship with a former pupil and defended such romances, saying they could be "experiential and educative".

Michael Howard, Conservative leader, said that Professor Woodhead's inquiry would "root out political correctness, replacing it with the building blocks of knowledge".

Examples of unnecessary political correctness included guidance for primary history lessons which recommends that children should consider possible solutions for Henry VIII's marital problems.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Professor Woodhead said that basic skills had not changed since the 19th century and that it was unnecessary to make the curriculum any more relevant to the 21st. He said he was appalled that fewer than half of teenagers knew Sir Francis Drake defeated the Spanish Armada, with 6 per cent of those questioned thinking the victor was Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings.

"When it comes to history, surely the focus ought to be the national story and the national story hasn't changed in the last decade or so," he said.

Previous posts held by Professor Woodhead include chief executive of the organisation which introduced the curriculum, the National Curriculum Council.

Ted Wragg, education professor and TES columnist, said that Professor Woodhead's eagerness to dismantle the curriculum was the latest in a series of U-turns (see box right).

"It's like putting an arsonist in charge of the fire brigade," Professor Wragg said. "It's more Frankie Howerd than Michael Howard. God help us."

Teachers' unions were equally scathing. Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said:

"The prospect of turning back the clock by putting Chris Woodhead into a position of responsibility at the highest level is one that teachers would view with grave concern."

LEADER 22

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

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