A vision spelled out;Leading Article;Opinion

4th June 1999 at 01:00
Tony Blair delivered an impassioned call to headteachers this week to get behind his Government's greatest challenge - the quest for a world class education system. It was a singular event for a prime minister to address a teacher union conference; a powerful symbol to underline the social and economic imperative of raising basic standards for all.

He made it clear he was not prepared to see another generation of children betrayed. "There is no greater social injustice than to give a child a poor education," he told the NAHT conference in Cardiff. In a speech designed for once to inspire the profession rather than to appeal to the wider electorate, he spelled out a vision in which all schools achieve standards to match or better the rest of the world and all young people leave education with the skills for a good job and the capacity for lifelong learning: "the indispensable condition for creating a fair and prosperous society for the next century."

Teachers, he told the heads, are the "changemakers" of modern society. "A world-class education system stands or falls on the quality of teachers and headteachers." The Government was prepared to invest in support like never before. But "our single most urgent challenge as a nation" ultimately rested in teachers' hands and in the hands of school leaders.

This was Blair the head headteacher setting out the aims and ethos of a modernised education service; exercising his own leadership over those he expects to lead their schools; encouraging them to have faith in their status and abilities.

Launching their conference with a survey which found that fewer than half of the heads questioned believed literacy and numeracy targets would be met by 2002 made the NAHT seem more concerned to shift blame than achieve the improvements the whole country is looking for.

But rather than chide them, Mr Blair paid them the compliment of assuming they shared his aspirations, accepted the necessary accountability and were prepared to harness their professionalism and enthusiasm to wipe out underachievement. Only when they do so will the status and rewards he envisaged for the profession be achieved.

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