Byline: TONY HALPIN;STEPHAN SHAKESPEARE
PUPILS in thousands of schools are being let down by head teachers who are too weak to do their jobs properly, the Chief Inspector of Schools warned yesterday.
Chris Woodhead said as many as 3,000 schools had incompetent heads, with one in seven primaries and one in ten secondaries affected.
`The weakest schools are invariably the victims of poor management and weak leadership,' said Mr Woodhead. `The converse is true in successful schools.'
Launching his third annual `state of the nation' report on schools in England, the Chief Inspector said many heads paid too little attention to what went on in classrooms.
`They have not got their fingers on the pulse of what is happening,' he said. `That is the key to good leadership, the head having a clear vision of where he or she wants the school to go and having the energy to monitor progress.'
His criticisms prompted a furious response. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said Mr Woodhead was becoming `the Cassandra of the education service, always crying `woe, woe, and thrice woe' '.
The row overshadowed evidence that action is finally being taken to root out 15,000 incompetent teachers and replace failed `progressive' theories with proven methods.
Mr Woodhead said new figures suggested the number of incompetents fell by about 2,000 to 13,000 in the past year.
He estimated 3.5 per cent of the country's 400,000 teachers were now incompetent, down from 4 per cent, as schools either re-trained staff or forced them out of the profession.
The Chief Inspector admitted problems existed with some inspectors who were reluctant to identify weak teachers.
However, a willingness by teachers to re-examine classroom methods was changing the `culture' in schools.
Increasing numbers were returning to traditional `whole class' methods and were grouping children by ability, particularly in primary schools.
This was slowly producing improved standards, with inspectors finding 5,000 fewer unsatisfactory lessons this year and 4,000 more good ones.
On the down side, achievement remained too low in 50 per cent of primaries and 40 per cent of secondary schools.
Many children were still left to work on their own and were let down by poor quality English and maths lessons.
Literacy standards would improve when schools spent more time on traditional `phonics' methods, in which pupils learn the sounds of the alphabet.
Too many maths lessons involved `repetitious written exercises' with pupils `unproductively repeating work that they have already mastered'.
Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard said the report contained `encouraging news' but there were still too many poor lessons.
John Major told the Commons that he `would not rule out making a national competence qualification compulsory for all new and aspiring head teachers'.
Labour claimed this indicated a split with Mrs Shephard, who had earlier said there was `no need to make it compulsory' because governors would be careful to ensure they appointed `appropriately qualified' people.
Labour education spokesman David Blunkett said the report `confirms that standards are simply not rising fast enough'.
Comment - Page EIGHT
PUPILS entering primary school at five are to be tested on the basics of counting and writing. They will be given `baseline assessments' in English, maths, and `personal and social development' in their first term to ensure they get a good start in basic skills, said Mrs Shephard. Schools will have to report results to parents. Asked if it could lead to publication of national test results at seven, Mrs Shephard said: `That would be a longer term aim.' English tests could include asking pupils to write their names legibly. …