Woodhead's turn to twist the knife

9th March 2001 at 00:00
NOW David Blunkett knows how teachers felt. After six years as the scourge of failing schools, Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector, this week turned on his former partner in crime at the Department for Education and Employment, writes Jon Slater.

His first public pronouncements on the couple's acrimonious split last year dominated the week's education news. Mr Woodhead was scathing: "David Blunkett has presided over a set of initiatives that has wasted taxpayers' money, distracted teachers from their real responsibilities and encapsulated the worst of the discredited ideology that has done so much damage since the 1960s.

"He has just not delivered. A generation of children has been betrayed," he said.

The former chief inspector attacked the national curriculum as "claptrap" and said that there was a "black hole" at the heart of Labour's education policy.

In particular he attacked Labour's utilitarian view of education, saying that they did not see it as an end in itself.

He also contradicted the widely held belief that he, rather than Mr Blunkett, had Tony Blair's ear on education, and made it clear that he had grown frustrated by the Prime Minister's unwillingness to overrule Mr Blunkett.

While Mr Woodhead told all to the press about his uneasy life with Labour, Mr Blunkett initially headed for the moral hig ground.

"It is a shame that Chris Woodhead has chosen to start his career at the Daily Telegraph in the way that he has. But that doesn't alter my view that he made an important contribution to our shared goal of raising standards," he said.

But that did not stop him and his allies from pointing to some apparent contradictions between Mr Woodhead's comments and what he had said as chief inspector.

Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press spokesman, said: "It's a bit odd both to say that nothing has changed and that things are getting better. He was the author of an Office for Standards in Education report pointing to a very considerable improvement in the country's schools."

And when Mr Woodhead attempted to blame poor teacher morale on ministers, they were quick to reveal that he had proposed including a cut in the salaries of under-performing teachers as part of the Government's pay reforms.

Despite denials by Mr Woodhead, rumours continue to circulate about a possible Conservative peerage. Their education spokesperson Theresa May described Mr Woodhead's attack as "a damning indictment of the Government's education policies".

Mr Blunkett also received little sympathy from the unions: "If you feed wild dogs you deserve to be savaged by them," said Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary.

Leader, 16

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