Woodhead criticisms rebutted

7th March 1997 at 00:00
Doubts were cast this week on the truth of Government claims that class size does not effect teaching standards and that bad teaching is due to "trendy" teacher training.

An internal Office for Standards in Education memo dated January 1996, leaked to the press this week, attempts to explain the chief inspector's assertion that there were 15,000 bad teachers in our classrooms (recently revised to 13,000).

The analysis is based on 493 primary schools inspected during 1994-95. Poor teachers were defined as those whose lessons were judged unsatisfactory or poor after being observed for four and a half hours. Music and PE lessons were excluded, as were lessons for special needs pupils. The schools were below average size - only those with nine teachers or fewer were included.

The memo says that poor teachers generally teach smaller classes than more competent peers "possibly because their headteachers are anxious to place them in the best circumstances".

Critics claim that if poor teachers get the small classes and competent teachers bigger ones, then the argument that class size makes no difference - a conclusion which the Office for Standards in Education came to in a report published in November 1995 - does not hold.

The memo, written by Christine Agambar, head of research at OFSTED, also reveals that incompetent teachers are usually experienced, suggesting that poor teaching is not due to newly-qualified teachers emerging from teacher training colleges unprepared to cope. Poor teachers also tend to be failing "in the basic skills of class organisation and task management and not necessarily because they have poor subject knowledge". Poor teachers are also more likely to be found teaching Years 4 and 5.

Christine Agambar admits in the memo that Chris Woodhead's estimated figure of 15,000 bad teachers "generated much interest and a certain amount of justified criticism", and that the original calculation that there were 7,200 poor primary teachers was "a rough estimate". She comes up with a figure for primary of 7,000. The memo was sent to HMI to address their concerns about press interest in the 15,000 figure. The memo does not talk about secondary teachers, suggesting that Mr Woodhead simply assumed that if there were around 7, 000 poor teacher in the primary sector, there must be a similar amount in secondaries, hence the assertion that there were 15,000 bad teachers in the profession.

Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, said: "All Mr Woodhead's major arguments have been blown out of the water by his own department."

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