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Don't groan, says adviser, it's marketing, not change

A former senior Government insider has lifted the lid on why ministers have produced so many education white papers.

They are as much about marketing existing policies as the need for any new ones, according to Robert Hill, special adviser to Charles Clarke when he was education secretary.

His comments, in an article published today, may infuriate many heads who are dreading next month's white paper, which is expected to lead to the 20th education Bill in 20 years.

They argue that at a time of unprecedented change the last thing schools need is a new policy document.

But Mr Hill, who was also Tony Blair's political secretary, says it is in teachers' interests because ministers need to justify their investment in education by constantly explaining how the money is being spent.

"That is how politics works," he writes in the Secondary Heads Association's Leader magazine.

"Government is no different from heads who each year have to market their schools to prospective parents. Ministers have to set out their stall regularly and persuade people that the investment they are making in schools is worth supporting."

He says it is not just about presentation. There were important issues such as behaviour, school meals, the role of parents and the curriculum that needed to be addressed in a way they were not a year ago.

But Mr Hill, who oversaw the publication of five major policy documents during the two years he spent at the Department for Education and Skills, acknowledges that heads might not see it that way. "I can hear the groans," he writes. "Why another white paper? Why don't they just let us get on with implementing the last lot of changes?"

John Dunford, general secretary of SHA, has already said as much in last week's TES, writing that heads already faced a "dangerously overcrowded agenda" and might "just say no" to further change.

This week, he said that too often under Labour and the Conservatives, legislation seemed to be for the benefit of politicians rather than education. He said it was "refreshing" to hear someone who is closely involved admit the real reasons.

Mr Hill's article says that the white paper will have to work out how to handle the tension between introducing choice and collaboration between schools.

He says that the biggest risk will be that it neglects investing in the school workforce, the route to improved results in the classroom.

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