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Editorial: Spectres of Christmas

With #163;19 billion extra promised, no one can call David Blunkett a Scrooge. So when the Ghost of Christmas Past comes round in the form of the tenth anniversary of the Education Reform Act during Labour's first full year in office, the Education Secretary is unlikely to be perturbed, though most of the reforms feebly resisted by Labour a decade ago remain intact.

True, grant-maintained status is about to be abolished, in name at least.But now all schools are to have more devolved funding whether they like it or not. So governors must choose whether to opt into their local authority rather than out.

The difference in Labour's approach, is that while it has retained many of the innovations of the Act it has dropped much of the rhetoric about markets, choice and schools being self-governing. Instead we now have educational targets and priorities centrally planned and driven while education authorities are treated even more like local offices of the Department for Education and Employment.

But what of the Ghost of Christmas Present? To judge from The TES postbag, the gifts David Blunkett promised to teachers in the Green Paper on pay were not quite what they'd always wanted. Much of the reaction seems to be against crude payment-by-results though this is specifically ruled out in the proposals. So as well as spelling out exactly how it will all work in the New Year, the Education Secretary and his team still have to convince many teachers that it can be fairly done at all.

The Ghost of Christmas Future nightmare for us all is that David Blunkett fails to achieve the targets he has set himself: to improve the recruitment, retention, reward and professional development of teachers and to raise standards of literacy, numeracy and proficiency in information technology.

The burden for achieving all this will, as ever, largely fall upon schools which once again are showing signs of initiative overload. That is inevitable with a government in such a hurry to show improvement.

There are a number of questions that might fairly be asked about these ambitions: how will all schools be equipped to meet the opportunities of the National Grid for Learning? Is the literacy strategy flexible enough to take account of research suggesting even more effective ways of teaching? Are boys and those in the lowest achieving schools falling even further behind in the general uplift in standards?

But looking back on 1998, the Government has made encouraging starts on reducing class sizes and funding training for every teacher on information and communications technology. Test and exam results show improvements and the literacy hour pilot project suggested even more progress is possible, provided, of course, the same support and training is offered to all schools.

But the key to everything the Government expects to achieve in schools is the professionalism and self-esteem of the teachers. They - and only they - have the power to turn Mr Blunkett's hopes into reality. Without their support he doesn't have a ghost of a chance.

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