Boost to morale, but no pay rise

The Government still needs to work hard to improve teachers' morale, education junior minister Estelle Morris admitted this week.

She blamed 18 years of Conservative government for the profession's poor spirits, but admitted it was essential to improve teachers' status in order to make the profession attractive.

"We know teacher morale is low and we hope to address it," she said. "The problem is that teachers always recall when they are criticised, but seem to forget when we praise them."

But she said ministers would continue to identify schools which failed to provide an adequate education. The Government was heavily criticised when, within weeks of taking power, it named 18 schools which were deemed not to have improved after failing an inspection.

Ms Morris said: "This is part of our strategy of pressure and support. Standards must improve and if a school is named the teachers should not take it personally. It is a recognition that a school has problems and we can then offer support and assistance to the school and the teachers."

Teachers must also take comfort, she said, from the fact for the first time in 20 years there is a Government that acknowledges if children are to succeed what happens outside school hours matters too.

She said ministers were also consulting on ways to cut down the paperwork teachers currently have to deal with.

The subject of teacher morale was later raised at a fringe meeting chaired by Ms Morris with her fellow education minister Stephen Byers and David Blunkett, Education Secretary. One questionner said teachers were overworked and underpaid. Why couldn't they be given a Pounds 1,000 across-the-board rise?

It was left to Stephen Byers to answer. The Government was having to be hard-headed and realistic on teachers' pay. It did not have Pounds 400 million to spare to give teachers a Pounds 1,000 bonus. Instead, extra money for education would be used to equip schools and take on more teachers to reduce class sizes. A General Teaching Council was also being established to boost the profession's status.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech to the conference contained little to fill teachers with cheer. Gordon Brown started with the good news. "Opportunity in education should be available not just to the privileged few; it is for everyone. That is why in the first Budget with David Blunkett we agreed Pounds 2.3 billion for our state schools, for teaching, books and classrooms."

Later came the visionary bit. "We must transform education from what it is today - one country, two systems - to make it what it can be, a gateway to lifelong learning, not just for the few but for everyone."

But in the middle came the important bit. "It is only by being prudent and disciplined now, that we will be able to deliver the people's priorities for health and education in the years ahead. That is why our spending reviews - including pay settlements right across the board - will be guided by firmness and fairness," he said.

For "prudent", read "no pay rise above inflation".

Frances Rafferty

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