Videos provoke outrage

Nicholas Pyke

The release of four 'how-to-teach' films has deepened the divide between Chief Inspector and curriculum advisers. The Office for Standards in Education is heading for further controversy by launching a nationwide series of "how to teach" videos for primary schools - without consulting the Government's curriculum authority or the Teacher Training Agency.

Officials at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority are privately outraged at the plan, which they see as further evidence of Chief Inspector Chris Woodhead's determination to force his own agenda on the education system.

The four OFSTED videos on reading and mathematics are designed to follow up the new primary curriculum plans floated by the Government's literacy and numeracy centres, as reported in last week's TES. The plans are widely seen as the basis of a new national curriculum, and were drawn up in collaboration with OFSTED, SCAA and the TTA.

OFSTED this week denied it was trying to take over the project and insisted it was doing no more than sticking to its brief of disseminating the best practice. "These are videos of good teaching," said a spokesman. "We are not telling people how to teach. All we're doing is recording good examples of teaching that fit in with the framework drawn up for the Secretary of State's literacy and numeracy projects.

"We're giving teachers an opportunity to come and share that expertise and learning."

But primary headteachers have warned they will consign the initiative to the dustbin if it is seen as a "back-door" route for Mr Woodhead's traditionalist views. New curriculum plans, they said, must be introduced in collaboration with all the government agencies and with teachers' organisations.

The TTA has not been involved in the videos, even though it will be launching its own national curriculum for trainees in maths and English in the New Year.

The films, believed to be costing around Pounds 200,000 to produce, will be on sale to schools in the early summer. They will show examples of successful teaching, with an emphasis on whole-class work, and examples of carefully directed group work. Phonic approaches to reading are expected to figure.

SCAA's concern is indicative of the tension between the main education quangos. There were protracted arguments about last week's joint Standards over Time report, with Mr Woodhead insisting that standards at A-level had fallen - even though the evidence is, at best, equivocal. The TTA has also made plain its dislike of Mr Woodhead's belligerent approach towards the profession.

Professor Michael Barber, dean of new initiatives at the Institute of Education at London University and an adviser to Labour's front bench, says that rows between government agencies are damaging British education. In his inaugural lecture, he said a new government must dispel the tension as a priority.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The failure to consult is quite remarkable. If schools feel that a government agency such as OFSTED is trying to impose a literacy and numeracy curriculum by the back door, then it will be undermined.

"It is time that everyone came up-front, said what's going on, and consulted the teachers' organisations. We do not want people trying to impose their own agenda. Nobody's interests are served by secrecy.

"We can ensure that these initiatives will be a roaring success. We can also advise our members that, until we have satisfaction, they should be extremely wary."

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