The scourge of teachers surveys the desolation of learning
“SACK the useless teachers!” ran the headline above an interview with Chris Woodhead in 1994. And the newly appointed chief inspector of schools grew no more emollient on the job. Naming and shaming bad schools and teachers would raise standards (“I personally respond to threats”); educational research was “an irrelevance and a distraction”; schools didn’t need more money, but to jettison progressive teaching methods. After becoming prime minister, Tony Blair kept the Conservative appointee on as part of the attempt to persuade middle England that New Labour was not in hock to the unions. When Mr Woodhead finally resigned in 2000, after clashing repeatedly with David Blunkett, the education secretary of the day, many schools threw staffroom parties.
Now the scourge of trendy teachers is back, and as intemperate as ever. In “A Desolation of Learning“, a book published on May 22nd, Mr Woodhead surveys state schools in England and sees a wasteland. The national curriculum intended to ensure that all children learned the basics has become a “solipsistic daydream”. The inspectorate he used to lead is no longer an impartial arbiter but a partisan thought-police, “arguably the most lethal part” of the system. Government oversees “bloated bureaucracies and frenzied initiatives”, and the opposition Tories can be as “sanctimoniously utopian” as New Labour.