All friends at awards launch;Award

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Nicolas Barnard reports on the start of the pound;3m scheme to celebrate the profession

So now we know where David Blunkett banks his salary. The Education and Employment Secretary broke co-operative Labour hearts by revealing at last week's launch of the "teachers' Oscars" that he is with Lloyds TSB - thereby winning himself the Plug of the Day award.

The bank is sponsoring thepound;3 million celebration of teaching talent - the brainchild of film producer and standards task force member Lord Puttnam, who believes that British teachers are seriously undervalued.

An assembled audience of heads, union leaders, hacks and policy wonks gathered at the Geographical Society in west London to celebrate the event and hear how the Government intends to change the image of teachers in the public mind.

Lloyds TSB chief executive Peter Ellwood, sharing the platform with Mr Blunkett and LordPuttnam, showed an admirable grasp of the nature of private-public partnerships by eschewing long encomiums about the importance of teaching for our country's future.

Instead, he gave a lengthy rundown of all the marvellous things Lloyds TSB is doing for education.

Some 600 teachers and classroom assistants will be nominated for prizes in 15 categories in l0 regional ceremonies leading to a grand national ceremony - all to be broadcast on prime-time BBC TV in a programme that Lord Puttnam said would be a "profoundly emotional event".

Mr Blunkett was on relaxed form. He makes more than enough self-deprecating speeches about the comprehensive spending review these days to suggest that he knows his department is going to do quite well out of it.

This time, he reassured the unions in the audience: "This is not an alternative to next year's pay rise ... (deadly pause) ... assuming there is one."

Mr Blunkett made the closest thing to a traditional Oscar speech, thanking Lord Puttnam, thanking Lloyds, thanking everybody. But then the real stars lurking in the wings were - hey! - you, the teachers. Several celebrity heads were on hand (Bill Atkinson of Phoenix High in Hammersmith among them) to express their support.

Indeed, unity appeared to be breaking out all over. All thepolitical parties and unions are on board - Mr Blunkett's speech even name-checked the Tories' education new boy, DavidWilletts.

And Nigel de Gruchy, of the usually reliably Bolshie National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, won the Spoilsport of the Day award for resolutely refusing to rise to the media's bait that teachers might just prefer a decent pay rise.

Award categories:

* Primary School Teacher of the Year * Secondary School Teacher of the Year * Special School Teacher of the Year * Best New Teacher (primary and secondary) * Excellence in special needs teaching (primary and secondary) * Most creative use of information and communications technology (primary and secondary) * Best Classroom Assistant * Working with parents and the community (primary and secondary) * Contribution to school leadership (primary and secondary) * Lifetime Achievement Award Nominations open in September.

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