Welcome to the annual Media Watch Golden Spin Awards ceremony for 2005.
Once again, competition was as intense as ever. So congratulations to: DfES: Bury the Bad News Award. On the day the annual school attendance statistics were published, the department's news release was headlined "Record school attendance". While not inaccurate, since authorised absences had indeed gone down, this relegated to page two the main news point, namely that truancy rates had risen, with an extra 4,500 extra pupils bunking off each day. Could this coyness over truancy have been related to the Government's failure to meet its targets for reducing truancy?
Downing Street: the Backfiring Photo Opportunity Award. While drawing up the infamous "grid" (to co-ordinate news announcements across Whitehall), Number 10's spin machine failed to notice that the education white paper was being launched in half-term. With no schools to visit, the Prime Minister and Ruth Kelly were despatched for morning coffee with bemused parents, and a pack of photographers, in a south London kitchen.
The idea was for Mr Blair to hear the parents' complaints about finding a good local school. Although most reporters were kept away, the photocall rebounded on Downing Street when the parents later told journalists they were unimpressed by the white paper proposals for "parent power".
Independent Schools Council: the Get Your Retaliation In First Award. On the day the Office of Fair Trading was due to publish its interim report into allegations of a cartel over school fees, the ISC came out all fists flying. Its news release said the OFT had spent two-and-a-half years, and hundreds of thousands of pounds, on an investigation that was "a scandalous waste of public money". It accused the OFT of needing a result for the sake of its own credibility, noting that any fines levied on schools would effectively go to pay the OFT's operating expenses. Hidden amid this furious response was a quiet admission that schools may have erred somewhat, but only because no one had bothered to tell them the law had changed.
Rhys Gray: the Opportunity Out of Adversity Award. The former Marlborough college pupil lost his legal challenge after being refused entry to the sixth form because he had received 398 "chits" for disciplinary breaches.
However his Flashman-like good looks, when splashed all over the newspapers, reportedly earned him a modelling contract.
Training and Development Agency: the Most Creative Use of a Survey Award.
The agency published a survey claiming teachers enjoyed their job so much they laughed out loud on average every nine minutes, smiled every three minutes, and enjoyed "banter" with pupils every seven minutes. Closer examination revealed this was based on observing just 57 teachers in the classroom, although there is no truth in the rumour that all were employed at Billy Smart's specialist academy for clowning. Oh, and in case you forgot, the TDA is the new name for the Teacher Training Agency, which just happens to be charged with improving teacher recruitment.