We deserve a better advocate

14th January 2000 at 00:00
MR WOODHEAD'S comments (TES, January 7) are deeply worrying. True to form, he seeks to present his argument as though it were incontrovertible by selective quoting.

He sets up his own pack of demons - since when was the broadcaster James Burke an authority on educational matters worthy of serious consideration? And who says such people "typify the spirit of the new educational age"? Certainly none of the people I work with on a daily basis.

Mr Woodhead goes on to vilify the research into "new app-roaches to teaching and learning". At least he seems to be consistent over the years in his fixation on academic subjects being at the heart of what education is all about. What he fails to understand is that teaching is about transforming that enthusiasm for subject into practices in classrooms that enable pupils to learn and progress in that subject.

What we deserve is something more than just "enthusiasm for and understanding of their subject", and I would argue for something much better as a set of pedagogic practices than "joke, urge, coax, encourage". Teachers' professionalism ought to be built on more secure foundations than that.

Those foundations are created through a critical engagement with the outcomes of research and theorising. Yes, of course there are wacky ideas around, and some of them in the past, it can be argued, did untold harm to many pupils. Cyril Burt's discredited research on IQ in separated identical twins, for example, for many year gave support to the rationale for the 11- plus examination - that case serves to remind us that a critical appraisal of research findings is part of our professional responsibility.

On the other hand, the articles by Sally Goddard Blythe and Stephen Heppell in the same edition of The TES present scholarly and researched challenges to "common sense" that deserve consideration for their implications for future pedagogic practices.

What is concerning about Mr Woodhead's article is its reversion to a 19th-century view of education, to an outmoded romantic view of "philistines" threatening the essential initiation "of the young into those aspects of our culture upon which their (and our) humanity depends".

Whose culture is Mr Woodhead referring to? The culture of the Surrey stockbroker belt? Or that of inner-city Manchester? There is no such thing as a monolithic culture. To avoid an intelligent engagement with the realities of a multicultural society is very frightening in one so influential.

Yes, Mr Woodhead, teachers need "more opportunities . to work and talk together, to reflect on their successes and failures", but they deserve better advocacy than you offer.

What we really need is a forward-looking vision that holds true to the best pedagogic understandings while shaping them for the challenge of the future. That is the way to do the best for our pupils.

Dr Christopher Turner

9 Fairmile Drive

East Didsbury, Manchester

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