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Blunkett's unmissable offer

Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett shared his first conference platform since the election with a Cheshire headteacher - after making her an offer she could not refuse, writes Clare Dean.

Just before Sue Pearson addressed the National Association of Head Teachers, he asked her to become a member of his standards task force in front of the nation's education press.

Her presence on the conference platform was an indication of what Mr Blunkett calls the new partnership between Government and the profession.

He spelt out the dramatic impact she and her staff have had on pupil achievement during the past three years, breaking off from his speech to allow her to outline her success.

"Practice is more crucial than rhetoric. It is critical that we spread the message," explained Mr Blunkett.

Mrs Pearson inherited a school - Lache county infants in Chester - where standards were low, behaviour problems were rife and morale was "delicate". Seventy per cent of the children at the school are on free school meals.

"Parents had little faith in a system that failed them and appeared to be failing their children. We were not teaching our children to read to national standards."

The school introduced a pilot reading system for its elite - the children with the lowest reading skills - a daily reading hour using phonics and testing grammar and comprehension.

By May 1995 she was convinced that the reading hour was working - there was a 35 per cent increase in test scores and 85 per cent of children were reading at level 2 or above.

Morale was high, behaviour problems fell, the percentage of children with special educational needs had shrunk, teaching had become more controllable and staff looked forward to going to work.

"All my children will have read by 12 noon," Mrs Pearson told the NAHT. "Every child has a right to learn to read. It is our job to teach them."

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