Who's going soft?

20th July 2001 at 01:00
SO Chris Woodhead believes his successors are "going soft on standards" (TES, July 6). Perhaps it's time to reclaim the integrity of language from someone who misappropriates it so frequently.

"Soft" inspection is when you expect heads and teachers to perform for one week every six years according to a rigid script, and congratulate them when they are word-perfect. "Soft" is when you try to persuade professionals, parents and the Government that there is a national consistency in this arbitrary approach. "Soft" is when inspectors are reduced to using a check-list in the face of the unpredictable process of children's learning. And, above all, "soft" is when you abuse your position by parading personal prejudice as if it were evidence of inspection.

"Hard" inspection is when you try to find ways of supporting teachers in sustaining high expectations of themselves and their students all day, every week, every term. "Hard" inspection is expecting teachers continuously to review their practice in the light of their pupils' learning, and to commit to developing their skills.

"Hard" inspection is about ensuring that those inspecting schools have the chance to develop their skills: seeking evidence of students' progress, of what helps them learn and of how schools can best conduct themselves to promote this learning. Above all, "hard" is when, as a senior inspector, you respect your role and restrict yourself to using inspection evidence as the basis for public statements.

Many of us who have been inspectors for longer than Chris Woodhead, and who are still learning about how to inspect, are delighted that Estelle Morris and Mike Tomlinson are consulting on improving the system. We look forward to a system that recognises what was forgotten during Woodhead's regime: that inspectors have as much to learn from their visit as teachers. But if we could get the balance of evaluation right, that would be a powerful lever for improving standards. Hard? Of course, but we're beyond soft platitudes now.

James Learmonth 40 Hardy Road, London SE3

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