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Standards slip in table of mentions;News

GOOD NEWS for the Prime Minister: he's officially a more important education figure than Chris Woodhead. The bad news is - standards are still falling.

Those, at least, are the conclusions from The TES's own education performance indicators, based on the number of stories published this year which have named movers and shakers, organisations and buzz words.

Tony Blair edged the chief inspector of schools into third place in the league of most-mentioned people - his 233 citations just four more than Mr Woodhead's total. David Blunkett was, inevitably, the runaway winner again, mentioned 556 times.

But, as with all league tables, it's best not to look only at the raw data. Year-on-year, the education secretary was 30 stories down. If he slips much further, he could face accusations of "coasting".

As for standards, they again topped the table of most-used buzz words. But they too are down, this time by more than 300 references to just 1,953, following last year's drop of 200. That's a 20 per cent decline on 1997: time to call in the private contractors.

Who were the other big players this year? School standards minister Estelle Morris, cited in 146 stories, was again the most-mentioned woman, coming fourth overall and well ahead of the next gang of familiar faces - the union general secretaries. The closeness of Doug McAvoy (88), David Hart (83), Nigel de Gruchy and John Dunford (81) suggests the National Union of Teachers' days of dominance are truly over.

But perhaps more significant was the number of mentions for Stephen Lawrence, whose murder prompted the publication this year of the Macpherson report (34) and led to a searching examination of institutional racism.

High-ranking farewells include quango bosses Nick Tate (24 mentions) and Anthea Millett (22). Among junior ministers, new appointee Jacqui Smith (22) has made a good start but remains overshadowed by civil servant Michael Barber (48).

The main opposition parties each changed education spokespeople yet their showing remains poor. Teresa May and David Willetts managed 33 appearances between them while Phil Willis and Don Foster together made only 28. Last year, Mr Foster alone figured 76 times.

The language of education is little changed, to judge by the buzz-words. Improving reading (992) may be an important government target, but it was beaten into fourth place this year by pay (1,196) and curriculum (1,811). Rising stars include lottery (181) and world-class - as in tests - (64). Happily naming and shaming is in decline, as is retirement.

OFSTED beat the DFEE - again - though the gap is closing, and oddly, despite the announcement of its new chief executive and chairman, the GTC recorded fewer mentions than last year. Lord Puttnam (23) will be hoping for a better result in 2000.

John Howson (63) is a visiting

professor at Oxford Brookes University. E-mail:

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