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Editorial: Be clear on 1999

David Blunkett and the rest of the service may have targets for 2002, but the new year is the immediate prospect. And a number of nettles will need to be grasped within weeks, not least teachers' pay.

The distribution to every teacher of last month's Green Paper summary was unprecedented. Mr Blunkett clearly understands he needs grassroots support for a performance element in pay next year. But this year's annual salary award next month is also an important sign of good faith. He cannot afford the staffroom disillusionment that would be created by yet another phased settlement.

The review of the national curriculum is also gathering pace. The focus is likely to be on the early stages once again. More coherence in the 14 to 18 curriculum is urgently needed, but it is unlikely to be tackled seriously this time round. GCSE and A-level reform is too distracting an issue for Labour at the moment.

There are various demands for what roughly adds up to a citizenship hour,mandatory personal and social education and compulsory creativity through drama and music. But given the smouldering concerns about workload, calls for greater flexibility in the curriculum are more likely to be heeded than yet more prescription. The shift is away from dictating inputs towards measuring outcomes.

School, local authority and national targets are useful for focusing efforts. For politicians, targets have the advantage of both raising and limiting expectations. When a health minister was chided about prescription charge rises last year his response was that the Government's target was to reduce waiting lists. They never promised anything on charges.

Labour's education targets are an important part of its broader crusade against social exclusion. But there is a danger that too much emphasis on specific objectives will narrow and distort wider educational aims, especially when their achievement becomes a political imperative or the basis for rewarding teachers.

The best guard against that narrowing of expectations is teachers' professionalism; the ethic which puts pupils' longer-term interests above any other. It is fitting to see the word "professional" so prominent in John Howson's review of TES usage. Meanwhile, AH Halsey says that teachers' professional status has grown as this century progressed.

Governments increasingly direct and exhort schools. But if anything, this increases the onus upon teachers to act in their pupils' best interests. In 1999 the profession will need to be clearer than ever about what that means.

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