'Seize the day for reforms'

Teachers warned that they will not get a second chance if they keep resisting change. Warwick Mansell reports

EDUCATION Secretary Estelle Morris this week issued an ultimatum to the teaching profession: get behind the new freedoms the Government has given you, or you risk losing them.

In a robust defence of ministers' moves to involve teachers more in leading education reforms, Ms Morris told the profession to embrace them and stop "resisting change" as it had in the past.

The tough message came as Ms Morris slapped down John Beattie, the new chair of England's General Teaching Council, during a London event to mark the GTC's second anniversary.

Mr Beattie had warned Ms Morris that teachers needed more control over their professional lives.

In particular, they should be given the power through the General Teaching Councils to set the standards required for people to enter the profession and progress up the pay spine.

The GTC recognised that the Government wanted to trust teachers: it had set up the council itself and established the new schools innovation unit, which would help them come up with ideas for reform.

But he added: "What we are saying is that it is time to look at the jigsaw of accountability. It needs to be a rigorous and challenging system, but it also needs to be a less burdensome one."

But Ms Morris responded by reeling off the ways in which the Government was involving teachers in leading reform, including passing legislation giving schools new freedoms over the curriculum and pay and conditions.

Heads were being encouraged to spread good practice through federations, specialist schools were being encouraged to work with others, and there were now more former teachers high up in the Department for Education and Skills than ever before.

Ms Morris said these moves gave teachers a golden opportunity to prove that they could be trusted to raise standards. She said: "If this opportunity goes, and the profession does not seize it, it will not come your way again.

"No secretary of state and no government department gets the opportunity to do something as big as this, fails and gets the opportunity to go back and try again.

"It's the one and only time to seize the moment and get it right."

Afterwards, however, she rejected the request from the GTC to take control of teacher standards.

Meanwhile, Ms Morris clarified the Government's position on the use of support staff in schools, saying she backed enhanced roles for classroom assistants provided they were given proper training.

They could, for example, invigilate exams or cover for absent teachers, she said. For the first time, she also suggested that pay for support staff should reflect their responsibilities.

But David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, this week called the Government's proposals into question, arguing of support staff: "I'm not persuaded of them taking over some of the core tasks of teaching. You might then say why have teachers at all."

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