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Break for Blunkett may not be the last

FOR the first time in six years Education Secretary David Blunkett enjoyed an Easter weekend away from teacher union conferences.

He is now thinking carefully whether he is prepared to do without his much-appreciated break ever again. "It's been so wonderful," he said. "I feel so much better. Giving it up would be a real trial."

Hardly surprising given the reception his deputy, Estelle Morris, received at the National Union of Teachers' conference in Harrogate, when hundreds of delegates walked out on her.

Mr Blunkett, of course, is no stranger to the left-wing of the NUT, having been mobbed by militants before being bundled into a side room for his own protection at a Blackpool conference five years ago. He believes that teachers must set a good example if they are to raise their status.

Indeed Government attempts to champion a return to politeness in schools look downright silly when teachers are accused of bad behaviour - as Mr Blunkett pointed out at the one conference he did manage to attend after Easter.

He told the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers: "No one can talk about discipline and then behave the way they did at Easter in Harrogate."

He urged members to attend branch and district union meetings, and to ensure that delegates attending conferences really do reflect the interests of al teachers.

In the war over coverage, the NUT won the battle - just. Its tally of stories, which included four on the front pages, was 828 column inches.

The NASUWT meanwhile managed 802 column inches with president Martin Johnson's attack on Tony Blair for backing elitist education policy on the front pages of the Guardian and the Express. Mr Blunkett announced 1,000 special units for disruptive pupils which made page 1 of The Times.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which kicked off the conference season in Belfast, managed less than 200 column inches, none front-page.

The bulk of the stories were of the whingeing rather than winning variety complained about by Lord Puttnam, chairman of the General Teacher Council, to the NASUWT.

He gave delegates a laugh about with his own early depictions of teachers in films.

But it was Nigel de Gruchy, NASUWT general secretary, who pulled off the master stroke with his presentation of a threshold application form filled in by one D Blunkett.

"Knowledge and understanding - standard met. Teaching and assessment - standard met. Wider professional effectiveness - standard met. Professional characterisation - standard met.

"Pupil progress ... oh dear. 'Has failed to motivate and control the behaviour of thousands of NUT members.'" Even Mr Blunkett chuckled.

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