The headteacher of a top city school has described curriculum changes by Michael Gove as “bizarre” and slammed the school inspections system as operating a “regime of terror”.

Jim Foley, of St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School and Sixth Form College, in Kings Norton, made the comments after a visit by the Education Secretary last week.

Mr Foley described his meeting with Mr Gove as “courteous” but that they had agreed to differ on many aspects of the reforms introduced under the coalition government.

In particular, he said that said running a school had become more challenging under Gove as he had never seen such a pace of change.

“Mr Gove is the tenth education secretary I have worked under as a headteacher and the other nine pale into insignificance in terms of the scale of change," said Mr Foley.

"For good or ill. Mr Gove will go down in history as the initiator of the greatest change in the school system in the last 20 years.

“He has almost no support for the direction he is taking the curriculum. He is not supported by the universities, by schools, by academics – he is not even supported by his own select committee, which has a majority from his own party.

"He is very isolated and there is no academic underpinning to what he is proposing.”

Of particular concern for teachers, according to Mr Foley were changes to the GCSE curriculum announced by the Department of Education for 15 and 16-year-olds.

From September 2015, English students will be required to study least one play by Shakespeare, one 19th century novel, a selection of poetry since 1789 that includes Romantic poetry, and British fiction or drama from 1914 onwards.

The revised exam will require the analysis of unseen texts, which the DfE says will reward the most widely read students. The new curriculum for GCSE English literature and language courses will also place a greater emphasis on spelling, punctuation and grammar.

“As an English specialist, I shared my concerns to make the 19th century novel compulsory for all students, which is bizarre. To imagine that the 1960s grammar school curriculum that he and I grew up with is fit for 100 per cent of the intake of students in modern Britain seems fanciful.”

A headteacher for more than 20 years, Mr Foley is due to retire after 37 years in the profession next July.

Jim Foley
Jim Foley
 

Despite St Thomas Aquinas being rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, the Head described the inspection system as placing unnecessary pressure on already over-stressed teachers.

“The biggest issue facing all schools is we have the most punitive accountability regime in the world through Ofsted and league tables.

"The evidence shows we are rapidly deteriorating in our international standing and that applies to both governments under Labour and the Conservatives who have had constant interference in the daily running of schools,” said Mr Foley.

“The regime of terror through Ofsted is utterly counter-productive”

“I would allow the profession to get on with the job through a self-evaluation system, with sensible accountability that allows professionals to do the job they do.”

Mr Foley did praise the Education Secretary’s proposals for the best performing teachers to be paid higher – but said there has to be the funding to make the most of it. This also applied to the government’s flagship proposals for free schools.

“To build free schools without reference to whether additional school places are needed is madness.”

He added: “In the inner-city area there clearly is no demographic requirement for free schools.

“There is going to be huge waste. The principles of supply-and-demand maybe fine when you are producing a product, but we are talking about young people.”