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Cool reception for new initiatives unit

JUST three weeks after signalling that it planned to cut down on initiatives, the Government is about to launch an organisation to promote them, writes Warwick Mansell.

The "innovation unit" within the Department for Education and Skills will be a "powerhouse and incubator" for new ideas. It will be unveiled on Tuesday.

The unit is being greeted with scepticism by unions. They are conscious that the move to set it up comes less than three weeks after minister David Miliband told the National Association of Head Teachers' conference that there should be fewer programmes with high impact, rather than a multitude that have low impact.

However they appear to have been pacified for the moment by the DFES. It says that the unit is not designed to come up with central initiatives, but to spread teachers' own good ideas. The unit might, for example, highlight radical approaches to redesigning the timetable.

John Bangs, head of education of the National Union of Teachers, conceded that ministers appeared genuinely concerned not to add to teachers'

workloads. He said: "Teachers need new government initiatives like they need a hole in the head, but what they also want is to be in control of change, not to have change imposed on them.

"The unit appears to offer teacher-promoted change, spreading good practice, and that's fine.

"I am quite keen on the unit as it stands at the moment. But if it simply promotes government innovation, it will run into the sand."

The unit is being set up as the Government attempts to convince the profession and the public that it wants to free teachers to lead future reform. It will be led by a director earning up to pound;95,000 a year, plus four or five associate directors, reporting to a board initially chaired by Peter Housden, director-general of schools. The unit will support schools wanting to exploit new powers to innovate in the education Bill.

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