Blair's path to happiness

The PM's solution to problems with morale and recruitment? Cut workload and help teachers deal with disruptive pupils. Judith Judd reports

Workload and discipline hold the key to raising teacher morale and ending the staff shortage, Tony Blair believes.

Before hosting a Downing Street seminar on pupil discipline, he told The TES: "When you look at studies of people leaving teaching of course you get pay and workload issues but the issues to do with behaviour are as important as anything else.

"If you get schools and classes with highly disruptive children, the impact is felt on the whole class, the teacher and the ability of the school to deliver."

He said that he wanted to tackle truancy, exclusions and assaults on teachers by parents.

"It is amazing to think that the recent truancy sweeps picked up 12,000 children, almost half of whom were with their parents. When these children go back into school they are behind and it is an additional pressure on schools to ensure that they catch up," he said.

The Government was already committed to providing full-time education for permanently excluded children in special units and was considering extending that to those who were temporarily excluded.

"One of the problems I came across the other day was that some schools in the most challenging circumstances end up taking excluded pupils from other schools. We have to do something about that." Headteachers at the seminar later pressed home this point.

Asked why people did not want to be teachers, he said that it was "a tough profession". In London, with full employment and a booming housing market, some schools faced serious recruitment difficulties.

"It is a really serious problem to get staff into the most challenging schools." The Government was already putting more money into such schools and the Prime Minister accepted that their teachers had to be well rewarded.

Bureaucracy and workload were also big issues.

"How, for example, do we make sure that teachers are not having to give the same amount of information to more than one different body? Departments are asking for it, OFSTED is asking for it, the Learning and Skills Council is asking for it. We all have to look at these issues together."

But he argued that we should not take too gloomy a view. "I know that teachers do feel under enormous pressure but there are many, many teachers who still consider it a wonderful profession and enjoy every minute of it."

The problems should not be exaggerated, he said. There were 20,000 more teachers than there were five years ago and the incentives introduced by the Government to bring in recruits for shortage subjects were paying dividends.

To the suggestion that the difficulty was not so much attracting people in the first place but keeping them in post, he responded: "But most of them stay. The vast majority of teachers I meet still believe it is a great vocation."

Later, on Channel 4 News, he described teaching in inner-city schools as "an act of heroism".

In a televised question and answer session with an audience of teachers and parents, Mr Blair said: "In the inner cities, in particular, there aren't enough good-quality schools.

"In some of the inner city areas when you are getting really difficult situations, teaching in one of those schools is an act of heroism. But we are putting it right."

He ruled out the abolition of student tuition fees but said that the Government was looking at ways of ensuring that children from working-class backgrounds were not discouraged from going on to university.

THE PRIME MINISTER ON...

...EXAMS AND TESTING

"There is a lot of pressure on children, probably more than before, but the amount of testing is necessary. I don't think we are testing children more than they do in Germany. We have to benchmark ourselves against the best education systems in the world."

The AS-level exam, introduced last year and criticised for over-burdening sixth-formers, will stay, he said.

...MEASURING SUCCESS

"One benchmark of success is that we are up with the best in the world. There is evidence that we are getting up there. But I think you would have to say that the perfection test is that every child should be educated to the full extent of their ability. The more realistic test is that the number of schools where you have between 20 and 30 per cent of pupils getting five good GCSEs is very small and those schools are on a ladder of improvement."

...EDUCATION FOR ITS OWN SAKE

"Of course I believe in education for its own sake. It is also crucial for the economic prosperity of the country. You need both arguments coming together. Yes, it is great for the individual, it is right for society and it is also economically essential."

...PROGRESS IN EDUCATION

"Sometimes you get the impression if you read parts of the press that education is generally going to the dogs. Levels of achievement in our schools are infinitely higher than they were 30 or 40 years ago under the old grammar schoolsecondary modern divide. We shouldn't say there has been no progress but we have to carry it on."

...SELECTION AND COMPREHENSIVES

"There was a debate for a long time about selection versus comprehensives. In essence, that debate has been won in the sense that people think that if you divide everyone up into successes and failures at the age of 11 with 80 per cent going to secondary moderns and 20 per cent going to grammar schools, you end up with the problems of the British education system, educating an elite well and the rest poorly."

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you