Why belittle attempts to change?

24th October 1997 at 01:00
I read the reports about the Government's use of task forces (TES, October 3) with incredulity. The double-page spread and front-page article appear to be seeking to create a situation which, in my experience, does not exist.

If "Labour gags its unelected advisers" (TES, October 3) then it is interesting that as a person who has made no secret of my anxieties about being a pawn in a political game I was asked to join two task forces. Indeed only time will tell if the introduction of new strategies for consultation are genuine and will work but after the way in which the views of teachers have been ignored over recent years I believe it is important to give the Government the benefit of doubt at this stage.

On both the literacy and numeracy task forces there have been no attempts to confine all our discussions to secrecy but obviously there are issues over which the participants do not all agree. Confidentiality was an item on the agenda of the first meeting of one group but was there at my request, on the basis of my past experience with other organisations, to ensure we all knew where we stood.

Your mischievous reporting is an example of why it is appropriate occasionally to take care of what is said. I wish I had taken more care when talking to your reporter.

I wrote a paper for the recent TESNational Union of Teachers conference responding to the White Paper in which I said: "Involvement with the literacy and numeracy task forces is a risky business. The notion of a political party inviting a few people to consider strategies to enable substantial improvements to be achieved in standards was a risk.... To be a member of a task force also runs the risk of rubber-stamping decisions from elsewhere or even worse of being manipulated to recommend actions which are too risky for politicians. It was with a great sense of relief on my part that the preliminary report of the literacy task force was welcomed as 'inspirational' and recognised as a genuine attempt to change attitudes and practice to enable the (education) system to make progress in a fast changing world."

Instead of helping to promote positive debate your reports have hardened attitudes; belittled attempts to change previous practice and heightened the climate of political distrust. At the same time they will increase the level of anxiety of teachers who have not, as yet, had the opportunity to see the outcomes of this different strategy for consultation and partnership.

All that I can suggest to your readers is that they obtain a copy of the Department for Education and Employment national literacy strategy document, which was published at the beginning of September.

They should read for themselves in full what one task force is recommending to help and support teachers instead of expecting them to reinvent the wheel constantly. At the same time it attempts to ensure that our children are enabled to achieve at comparable levels to those in the countries with whom they will be in direct competition during their adult lives.

ANNE WATERHOUSE

Headteacher Asmall county primary school Tennyson Drive Ormskirk Lancashire

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