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The gift of peace

STUFF the partridges and pear trees. On the first day of Christmas what many in education will probably be hoping their true-love has laid on is a decent rest. They have certainly earned it.

Even Education Secretary David Blunkett seemed to recognise as much when he promised silent nights from his ministerial team over the 12 days of Christmas. A return present, no doubt, for the gifts from the profession that shows signs of meeting just about every test and exam target he has set it, and yet still found time to organise the end-of-term shows and concerts that build so much confidence in children and provide so many other unquantifiable opportunities to learn and grow.

The run-up to the festive season is, of course, both personally and professionally exhausting; a maelstrom of shopping, extra school and family commitments and social events to enjoy or endure. So teachers may not yet have had many quiet moments to reflect on the year that is passing. When they do, will they see any more than just an over-hyped and improbably-rounded date that happened to fall between 1999 and 2001? Or will it seem like a turning point in a 20-year cultural revolution in education?

Will 2000 go down as the year in which the positive results of years of radical reforms finally began to be recognised (even if some of the brighter ideas like Fresh Start began to lose their glitter)? The moment when the profession began to get its old confidence back? A profession which not only met new expectations but demonstrated a new sense of realism about them? Even among the Hosannas sung when chief inspector Chris Woodhead resigned there was a clear acceptance that it is not public acountability as such that the profession objected to but the way it was being misused. There was no let-up in the pressure to improve in 2000. But the matching support promised by Tony Blair in 1997 finally began to arrive. Not just in tinselled parcels of cash - though that too was just what we'd always wanted - but in more evident goodwill. The Prime Minister himself sang teachers' and local authorities' praises. Had the message at last sunk in? Work in education may have some elements of a vocation but the commitment of those involved can no longer be taken for granted.

No doubt a visit from Number 10's own ghost of Christmas future - with dire warnings about the quarter of a million new teachers needed in the next 10 years - prompted the new and more appreciative tone. Let us hope it has also modified the Government's Scrooge-like approach to teachers' pay. If Tony Blair is serious about improving public services the salaries of those working in them must be competitive with those in the private sector also hungry for their skills. With an award pending, we will soon see if the Government is ready to put its money where its mouth is, to reward teachers and so wish them a really Happy New Year.

If you missed out on the new spirit of confidence and optimism in the profession in the year 2000 - the growing sense of achievement and progress that ought to be abroad in education - perhaps you were just too busy making it happen. But don't worry. Years are like targets (and like trains used to be). If you miss one, another will be along quite shortly. Meanwhile, God rest ye merry (ladies and) gentlemen. Let nothing you dismay. Not until 2001 anyway.

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