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Clarke's gangster lingo backfires:Spinwatch

CHARLES Clarke's suggestion that poor heads be "taken out" rather invited Lib Dem education spokesman Phil Willis's quip that the remark belonged in "gangland New York".

So taken was the Daily Telegraph by the story that it almost forgot to mention the Education Secretary's latest "threat" to grammar schools - a tale related by the Daily Mail. (Mr Clarke isn't convinced they are better than comprehensives.) The "Bruiser's" remarks might have seemed less exceptional had he not been locked in a propaganda war with heads, some of whom say there's little to show for the promised largesse for schools.

With local elections imminent, ministers are under pressure to sort out the mess over funding or move the debate on.

Despite an emergency cash injection, Mr Clarke had to face angry heads at the recent Secondary Heads Association conference. Now the National Association of Head Teachers has opened a second front weeks before its annual shindig. The Times said David Hart, NAHT general secretary, was threatening to scupper reforms to cut teachers' hours unless Mr Clarke provided the cash needed in a month. But the Independent said ministers still expect teachers "to start (their) shorter week this September".

Governments respect heads' unions more than classroom ones. Which is why telling off National Union of Teachers hotheads is a favourite Easter pastime. But Mr Clarke must wonder if the kudos of facing down an Easter NUT conference would have been better than this unpredictable war with heads.

The problem is the Government paid too much heed to heads' moans about ring-fenced funding and unfair regional distribution. Solving these problems inevitably created silent winners and vocal losers.

But there's too much spin and too few hard facts.

Mr Clarke should call the heads' bluff by issuing funding figures for every school, compared with past years. Meanwhile, we must hope for a truce before Martin Scorsese starts casting Gangs of New York II.

Conor Ryan was special adviser to David Blunkett, then Education Secretary, from 1997 to 2001

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