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Too generous a view of the Woodhead legacy

by
10 July 2015

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From the Revd Roger Chamberlain

Sir, — I wonder whether I was the only reader having any connection at all with the world of education who was taken aback by Canon Angela Tilby’s uncritical eulogising of the late Sir Christopher Woodhead (Comment, 3 July). While having every sympathy with him in his demise, especially in coping with motor neurone disease, I doubt whether his work as Chief Inspector deserves all the plaudits given.

No one would question the need to do our very best for children and to aim for the highest possible standards; but, as in all walks of life, the ends do not justify the means. Carpet-bombing bullying of teachers emanating from his frequent denunciations of the profession has resulted in many excellent teachers’ suffering stress, leaving education, and discouraging new entrants.

It has been my experience in schools that blanket criticism of teachers affects the conscientious and committed staff rather than the vast army of imagined incompetents. Woodhead’s legacy seems to be an OFSTED that acts like bloodhounds rather than watchdogs and whose motto seems to be “Floggings will increase until morale improves.”

Good teachers continue to cope with constantly moving goalposts, changing agendas, and responsibility for producing not just high-performing pupils, but caring, socially responsible, rounded individuals.

Even the most vehement Old Testament prophets carried some support and hope in their messages. As an ex-teacher and present governor, I struggle to find it in the present educational culture from a regime that Woodhead largely established.

 

ROGER CHAMBERLAIN

The Vicarage, 75 Newlands Road
Baddesley Ensor, Atherstone
Warwickshire CV9 2BY

 

From Philip Ruler

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby’s uncritical praise of former Chief Inspector Woodhead cannot go unchallenged.

This man’s approach to education was bureaucratic. More than anyone else, he helped to turn English education into a great machine for testing and churning out mountains of meaningless statistics — meaningless, because standards of basic literacy and numeracy showed no improvement, nor was there any improvement in the social skills needed by school-leavers to fit into the workplace, or the study skills essential for further and higher education. He would, of course, blame all this on teachers.

Surely the overarching aim of education — more important than mathematical formulae and French verbs — is to teach young people the difference between right and wrong. Success in this will lead to improved discipline and better learning. But success depends on co-operation between parents, pupils, teachers, and all those involved in or affected by education, i.e. everyone. The teaching profession needed and still needs leadership.

What it received from Woodhead was negative criticism and sniping.

PHILIP RULER

51 Perryfields Crescent, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire B61 8ST

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