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Hard times for David Blunkett

YOU have to feel a bit sorry for David Blunkett. Every time the Education Secretary announces more money, like this week's pound;400 million for training and recruiting classroom assistants, he is overwhelmed with another crisis. Even the parliamentary sketch writers are writing off his chances as a future leader (see below).

His latest headache was industrial action over teacher shortage. Outright confrontation was avoided, but he was accused of a climb-down after an unrepentent Nigel de Gruchy and Doug McAvoy dug in their heels. Along with employers, he offered an olive branch in the form of an inquiry into workloads and the possibility of overtime pay for teachers covering for absences.

No good news either from the Secondary Heads Association. Their research shows that the new A-lvel curriculum has sharpened the divide between state and private schools. Pupils take at least four subjects instead of three, increasing class sizes in nearly 80 per cent of maintained schools compared with just over half of independent schools.

And there's less time for the individual study, making it more difficult to prepare pupils for university life.

Mr Blunkett was dealt another blow, this time by researchers from the London University Institute of Education researchers. Ken Spours, co-director of the study on the key skills programme, pronounced it "a disaster". The kids don't like it, teachers find it too complicated, and universities and employers ignore the new qualifications designed to meet the needs of industry, he said.

Better luck next week Mr B.

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