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Roadshow takes the message to heads

THE GOVERNMENT takes to the road next week to explain its big picture for education to thousands of headteachers.

Even close advisers admit that experience over the past decade has left many in the profession sceptical about whether governments ever see reforms through.

Schools standards minister Estelle Morris, junior minister Jacqui Smith and Michael Barber, head of the standards and effectiveness unit, are now determined to get the message across.

Leading school reformers from Australia and the US, as well as English headteachers, will take part in conferences in London, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham and Newcastle.

The conferences follow Tony Blair's demand last week for sweeping changes to comprehensive schools, insisting they should stop meaning the same for all.

The aim is to share experiences and talk about what has been achieved so far and to look at how education strategy might develop. Ms Morris said: "We want to listen to heads as well as to give them a message.

"If you are at the chalkface trying to implement policies, it is difficult to see the cohesion of the policies. But they do all come together and make sense."

Professor Barber said: "It's an opportunity to met about 10 per cent of heads face-to-face and thank them for their achievements." He said the Government wanted to explain its overall strategy for education, and put it into an international context. "These conferences are about opening a dialogue for the future," he said.

Ministers anticipate primary heads will be broadly supportive of the reforms but expect to hear concerns about workload.

"We still need to persuade them. Performance management has yet to prove itself," Professor Barber said.

But David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said if criticism was heaped once more on to schools it would backfire badly.

"Heads are brassed off having had to process 200,000 threshold assessments and now they are just about to take on the world's biggest performance management system.

"If ministers tell heads that the vast majority of them are doing well and concentrate on the minority who are underachieving then I can see no problem. They will get a bad reception if the message is that education is failing."

Conference findings, which will be open to comment, will be available on the DFEE website.

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