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Clarke upstages large red dustbin ... just

POP Idol singer Darius hopes to create "a lot of love in the room" when he performs next week in Bournemouth. But the town's Pavilion theatre has already seen one major love-in this season - Charles Clarke and the NASUWT.

The Education Secretary received hearty applause throughout his speech, which was packed full of flattery for the union.

Mr Clarke might have expected some mutterings of dissent after being harangued over funding by the Secondary Heads Association and mocked by the National Union of Teachers for snubbing its conference this year.

But the NASUWT does not like to heckle visiting ministers and Mr Clarke was there to pat union members on the back for being the well-behaved ones who supported the workload agreement "I do respect the way you conduct yourselves as a union," he cooed.

"Yours is the modern and the professional way."

Mr Clarke supplied succour to the union's anti-merger brigade with his attacks on the NUT. "Parents and the public think: 'Are these the people who teach our children?' " he said.

The speech was followed by the most polite of prearranged questions from the floor.

Afterwards, Eamonn O'Kane, the union's general secretary, said David Blunkett was perhaps the only education minister to have received a warmer reception.

However, Mr Clarke was almost upstaged at the conference by a large red dustbin, brought on by Sue Rogers, the union's treasurer, for a fiery speech defending delegates' decision to back the workload agreement.

She held up a series of pieces of paper with titles of tasks which teachers will no longer be required to do. As she crumpled up each sheet and threw it away delegates chanted: "In the bin!"

Mrs Rogers said she looked forward to having more free time under the new contract. She added, with a manic Jack Nicholson leer: "Look out grandson - grandma's coming to play!"

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