There's a simple recipe for guaranteed unconfined joy and restored goodwill across the nation for 1998. Follow it to the letter, Mr Blunkett, and by the millennium the primary sector will love you.
It's easy. Give every primary school teacher one working day a week for administration. If you don't believe this is necessary, why not carry out a bit of research? I'm talking about you and your team spending some time in a "challenging" primary school. No cameras, no fuss, just watching and learning. A week should do it.
There would have to be certain conditions. You would shadow a class teacher and you would have no privileges. So there would be no escape from the classroom and no chance to go to the toilet unless it was planned into the day.
You'd go out on break duty, spend lunchtime on duty or "finishing off" work because you've got to cram in two more curriculum areas in the afternoon. Then you would listen to the complaints and cries for help parents make as they pick up their children, before beginning your round of "essential" meetings.
You would then trail your designated teacher home to start on the paperwork. When this was finished and the preparation done for the following day, you would be allowed to crash out at a hotel of your choice - after you'd prayed for the health and happiness of the photocopier.
If you survive this programme, you should be able to see the advantages of allocating a day for administration: * planning and preparation would be in place two weeks ahead, and all needs and materials identified and ready (thus cutting out the prayer meeting); * assessment could be rigorously applied and reviewed. The teacher would have time to assess individually and plan accordingly; * detailed differentiated work would be prepared based on IEPs (individual education plans) for "special needs" children at both ends of the spectrum, drawn up by the teacher in consultation with parents; * teachers could observe examples of good practice in their own, and other schools, adding to their repertoire of strategies; * individual children could be counselled, problems could be anticipated, and preventive measures put in place; * the teacher could put more time into whichever curriculum area he or she co-ordinates, supporting other teachers if necessary, and go on those courses which are subject enhancing, but rarely attended because the budget won't run to it; * teachers would be refreshed enough to run an after-school club on that day with goodwill, energy and enthusiasm, and return to the classroom the next day with more of the same ready to raise standards and enjoy what they do best - teaching.
One extra teacher for every five could deliver this. It's big money, but sit down (in one of those chairs puffed out with hot air, now slowly deflating to the hiss of "Education. Education. Education") and consider the possibilities.
That precious object in pieces at your feet, Mr Blunkett - that's your integrity. Why not pick it up, stick the pieces together and use it. Make it a New Year we'll all want to remember.
Joy Wetton teaches in the Midlands