Welsh win praise from inspector

23rd February 1996 at 00:00
Teachers need encouragement says Chris Woodhead's counterpart in Wales. Nicholas Pyke reports.

Welsh teachers have been patted on the back by their chief inspector, while their English counterparts are still smarting after being told that 15, 000 of them were incompetent.

Roy James, the chief inspector for Wales, makes no mention of sacking teachers and says that, overall, standards in the principality are improving. He calls on the Government to offer schools some encouragement.

According to Mr James the proportion of unsatisfactory lessons has fallen for the second year and now stands at 20 per cent. His report attributes this to the national curriculum; to good in-service training; and to paying rigorous attention to teaching quality.

Two weeks ago the English annual report from Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, told English teachers that standards should be improved in half of all primary and two-fifths of all secondary schools. In the report, he says that traditional teaching methods were not used enough and calls for teachers who are not good enough which last year he estimated at 15,000 to be removed from the profession.

In contrast, however, Mr James this week told The TES that poor lesson reports could not be used to count up the number of poor teachers. He appeared to be questioning the methods the Office for Standards in Education used to calculate the number of incompetent teachers.

"I don't think incompetent teachers are a major problem," said Mr James. "That's a very small proportion. Twenty per cent of unsatisfactory teaching does not necessarily mean you have 20 per cent of unsatisfactory teachers.

"You might have teachers in primary schools who might be very able in the core subjects but who might have difficulty teaching, for example, technology. "

OFSTED claims that Mr Woodhead's controversial figures have been extrapolated from the number of poor lessons seen by the inspectorate.

Mr James's most trenchant criticism is directed at PE, and design and technology for primary schools where standards remain "unacceptably low". Like Mr Woodhead, he concludes that key stage 2 (seven to 11-year-olds) is the weakest area. He says children are held back by lack of attention to grammar, punctuation, spelling and handwriting. In maths they do not spend enough time discussing what they are learning, and fail to remember such things as multiplication tables.

Curiously the English inspectors found the same proportion of unsatisfactory lessons, 20 per cent, across all key stages.

In the Welsh report, Mr James calls on the Government to support teachers: "All the agencies involved in education will need to work together in harmony. Most of all schools will require continued support and encouragement from central Government, local authorities, parents and the wider community. The challenges faced by teachers need to be recognised and their work valued. "

The Welsh report was welcomed by John Bangs, head of education and equal opportunities with the National Union of Teachers.

"The contrast shows what a remarkable political spin Chris Woodhead insists on putting on his reports. It indicates some form of agenda that is missing in Wales. They have a chief inspector dedicated to the neutrality of the inspectorate and one who understands the pressures on individual schools and the good work they are doing.

"Unlike Chris Woodhead, he also realises it is impossible to extrapolate from snapshots of lessons to reach conclusions about the number of bad teachers. The evidence is not there."

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