Observer Review Class War By Chris Woodhead

Observer Review: Class War By Chris Woodhead Essay, Research Paper

Chalk and sleazeClass War: The State of EducationChris WoodheadLittle, Brown ?14.95, pp212I should put my cards on the table. I believe Chris Woodhead should have stood trial for perjury when he lied on oath about a relationship he had with a schoolgirl as a teacher in the mid-1970s.From the day three years ago when Woodhead famously told trainee teachers at Exeter University that such relationships could be ‘educative’ and ‘experiential’ his credibility was shot, although it took more than a year of opprobrium before he quit as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools.When the story broke in 1999, Woodhead and his lover, Amanda Johnston, revealed they had signed statements that the relationship had begun only after the girl had left school. Former classmates, Woodhead’s friends and colleagues and his wife at the time of the affair knew better. His unconvincing defence that the relationship had started after Johnston had ceased to be his pupil would have been destroyed by a good barrister.Instead, Education Secretary David Blunkett blamed the scorned woman, Cathy Woodhead, for stirring up history and, to his shame, failed to demand Woodhead’s resignation or push for the police investigation demanded by the National Association of Head Teachers. Blunkett knew that once Woodhead was mired in scandal, he would pose no threat to his power as Secretary of State and tolerated his neutered presence because he knew Woodhead had Tony Blair’s support.When Woodhead finally resigned, he did so not out of a sense of honour but because he had found two new jobs: one as an occasional contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the other as an adviser to right-wing lobbying company Bell-Pottinger.Now he has come up with two new money-making ventures. The first is to set up a chain of bargain-basement private schools, although the Department for Education has made plain that it would not look favourably on an application to run a school from anyone who believed pupil-teacher sex was a valid part of the educational process. The second is to write this 200-page essay on the state of education. The blurb calls it ‘The Book Every Parent Should Read’, but at the end of this dreary book, it sounds more like a plea than a recommendation.Class War is little more than an exercise in political score-settling. One old adversary, Tim Brighouse, chief education officer for Birmingham, is accused of ‘appalling’ condescension for suggesting that the inspection regime under Woodhead was bullying and destructive. Professor Ted Wragg of Exeter University, who has heaped scorn on Woodhead in the Times Educational Supplement for the best part of a decade, is ‘hopelessly and unhelpfully romantic’. According to Woodhead, Education Secretary Estelle Morris ‘doesn’t have the stomach for the fight’ and does not understand the challenges facing schools. Meanwhile, leaders of the three main teacher unions during his era, Peter Smith, Nigel de Gruchy, and Doug McAvoy, ‘have no concept of professionalism, only of deprofessionalisation’.As Chief Inspector, Woodhead always provided a tough-talking soundbite for the tabloids and, as one of the few educationalists who didn’t speak in jargon, was embraced by large sections of the media. In fact, like all demagogues, he was telling people what he thought they wanted to hear, and built a whole reputation on stating the obvious. Of course incompetent teachers should be sacked, of course the ‘trendy’ teaching methods of the Sixties had to be replaced by something more rigorous, of course underperforming schools in the inner cities let down the children who needed education the most. No one, even Woodhead’s most vigorous opponents in the liberal education establishment, could possibly disagree.He talks with pride in Class War about his first day in the job, when the Daily Mail quoted him as saying ‘Sack the Incompetent Teachers’. But this is the beginning and the end of Woodhead’s educational philosophy. Woodhead’s Class War is a never-ending and largely meaningless fight against the bogey of incompetence.When I began working as The Observer’s Education Correspondent in 1996, I was told by an old hand that there were only three stories in the field that made the front page: ‘Standards are Falling’, ‘Teacher Sleeps With Pupil’ and ‘Pupil Hits Teacher’. Woodhead’s career was made by the first type of story and destroyed by the second. As far as I know, Woodhead was never punched by any of his students, but, if any have the misfortune to read this book, they will wish they had.


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