Middle-class pupils have better genes, says Chris Woodhead
Some children are born “not very bright” and education ministers will never be able to change that, former chief schools inspector Chris Woodhead claims today.
Woodhead, scourge of the teaching profession in the late 1990s, says the children of middle-class professionals are likely to have “better genes”.
In an interview with Education Guardian, the chief inspector of England’s schools from 1994 to 2000 says government ministers have convinced themselves that they can make all children “brighter than God made [them]”. A child’s “genes are likely to be better if their parents are teachers, academics, lawyers”, he says. “And the nurture is likely to be better.”
But he says there can still be exceptional working-class students, such as writer DH Lawrence, who came from a humble background.
Children who are “not very bright” should be taken out of the classroom and given practical educational courses, Woodhead argues. He compares these children to “Jimmy”, a “not very bright boy” invented by Lawrence. “Why do we think that we can make him brighter than God made him?” says Woodhead, a one-time headteacher and English teacher.
“I’ve taught, and I can still remember trying to interest children who had no interest whatsoever in English. They didn’t want to be in the classroom. If I’m honest I didn’t want them to be there either because they were disruptive to [other] children.
“What was the point? If we had had a system whereby those young people were able to follow practical educational courses that gave them a sense of worth, a sense that they weren’t dull and less intelligent than others, it would have been much better for them.”
Woodhead suggests teaching all children to read, write and be numerate at primary level before reverting to a selective secondary system. He recommends education vouchers so parents can buy their child’s way to a better life. Schools parents do not want would sink, while others would flourish, he said.
Woodhead, who suffers from motor neurone disease but continues to chair Cognita, a company that runs independent schools, admits that this would not be entirely fair. “Life isn’t fair,” he says. “We’re never going to make it fair.”
In his latest book, The Desolation of Learning, which is published next week, he tracks A-level and GCSE exam questions from 1929 to today and argues that standards now are much lower. Results are not getting better because the teaching is better or the students more intelligent, he says. “It’s that the exams have got easier.”
Woodhead has gained a reputation as one of the country’s most controversial education figures. Months after taking up his post as chief inspector of England’s schools, he said there were 15,000 incompetent teachers who should be sacked. “I am paid to challenge mediocrity, failure and complacency,” he said.
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