Woodhead blasts leadership exam

The chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, stirred up the already troubled waters of education politics this week by declaring that he had no confidence in the latest part of the Government's drive to improve the calibre of the teaching profession - the new national professional qualification for headteachers.

After giving his annual lecture on Tuesday, the chief inspector was asked by Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association, what he considered the best way to deal with the 3,000 supposedly bad heads pilloried in the chief inspectors' annual report.

Mr Woodhead questioned whether it was possible to teach leadership at all and doubted the new exam's quality. "What we were talking about in the annual report was a willingness to engage with the quality of classroom culture; I'm uncertain if we will see courses developed that actually do teach leadership of that kind," he said.

His comments came the day before the NPQH launch by the Teacher Training Agency. Anthea Millett, the TTA's chief executive, was in the audience but had left by the time the chief inspector made his comments.

A spokesman for the TTA said: "Chris Woodhead is wrong. Leadership can be taught through practical training. This is done in other professions, why should teaching be any different?" Last year, Ms Millett made a thinly-veiled attack on the chief inspector when she said that "a constant diet of criticism, criticism and more criticism" was unlikely to attract able people into teaching.

But in the lecture itself Mr Woodhead was careful this year to avoid criticising teachers directly Instead he spoke of the flabby decadence of late 20th century British culture, which, he argues, has seriously infected teachers, and of "intellectually shoddy" and unhelpfully abstruse education research.

He said our society has forgotten. the meaning of fortitude. It is characterised by a "narcissistic preoccupation with self and an ever-increasing reliance on therapists and counsellors", a "subjective approach to knowledge" and "a debased romanticism which has sentimentalised our sense of ourselves and our relations to one another".

Relativism - the argument that all moral and intellectual standpoints are equally valid - came in for another prolonged attack while Melanie Phillips' polemical essay All Must Have Prizes, was singled out for praise.

He criticised an article by a Plowden-inspired deputy head who wrote recently in The TES: "My flight path has taken direction from the buoyant, unchanging, intellectually curious and endearing nature of children, from whom we can learn so much about what it is to be both educated and human."

"Is this a realistic view of children, or, indeed the teacher?" the chief inspector asked.

He said the options for the next government are limited. It can "go native", give teachers a large salary rise and "make Ted Wragg Permanent Secretary"; cut the link with local government altogether and manage everything from Whitehall or, his preferred solution, "define what schools are expected to do, devolve real freedom to them and then audit their performance". The loss of faith in education among white working-class communities and the "collapse of Western civilisation as we have known it" can be addressed, initially, by tackling literacy in primary schools.

Those "educationalists and education correspondents who think that in writing about the low morale of teachers they are helping the profession are profoundly mistaken," he said. Teachers must stop blaming the Office for Standards in Education, underfunding or the press and cultivate a little fortitude.

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