From the Revd Brian Williams
Sir, - Teacher accountability was an issue when I was a student
teacher during the 1970s, and I recall writing assignments about
it. It was expected that I would make professional judgements
informed by the relevant disciplines and educational research, and
I was trained accordingly.
This was underlined by an occasion several years after I began
teaching, when I attended an in-service training course. One of Her
Majesty's Inspectors attended one of the workshops. At a coffee
break, he cornered me and tackled me about a remark that I had
contributed earlier. During the next half-hour, the educational
implications of what I had said were mercilessly dissected. By the
time the next session began, my coffee was cold, and I was
blancmange; but I became a better teacher for it.
Such discussions were made irrelevant by the 1988 Education Act,
which spawned OFSTED, the National Curriculum, league tables, and
the target-driven culture that persists to this day.
Dr Robin Richmond (
Letters, 12 July) rightly raises this question of
accountability. The 1988 Act effectively shifted accountability
from teachers to society in general to mere accountability to
government policy. The role of Government shifted from promoting
education to controlling it, and gave Secretaries of State
unprecedented powers which none has so far showed any inclination
Since 1988, successive governments have defined how education
should be understood, largely dictated what is taught and how, and
defined what constitutes success - which assumes that Government
can be trusted to get it right, which in a democracy ought to be
Good practice is no longer required to be informed by
philosophy, the relevant social sciences, and the experience of
teachers, but is whatever the Chief Inspector and OFSTED say it is.
To whom, then, are they accountable?
Hence the difficulty to which Dr Richmond refers. As things
stand, the law allows Mr Gove and those who come after him to do
more or less as they see fit, even if it has the intellectual
rigour of something scrawled on a beer mat. They are not required
to listen to bishops or any others who wish to speak for church
schools in particular or schools in general, or to accept
responsibility for whatever initiatives they introduce: by the time
that the wisdom or otherwise of Mr Gove's decisions becomes
apparent, he will have moved on.
As the next General Election approaches, perhaps the Bishops
might like to consider campaigning for a new Education Act that
takes accountability seriously. In my humble opinion, any
prospective Secretary of State seeking to preserve the status quo
deserves cold coffee, and to be blancmange.
The Vicarage, 20 Alexandra Road
Capel le Ferne
Folkestone CT18 7LD