Are those who can still in the pub?

22nd December 2000 at 00:00
A recruitment campaign set in the nation's boozers, the union that went to court to block a pay rise, and of course the departure of the man teachers loved to hate. Alison Brace and Sarah Cassidy look back on the highlights of 2000.

FLOODING might have brought Britain to its knees at the start of the new millennium, but the nation's schools have had to deal with a deluge of their own.

Barely had the Y2K party fireworks fizzled than the standards and effectiveness unit, that non-stop ideas factory at the Department for Education and Employment, was pumping out a whole new raft of initiatives.

On this year's conveyor belt: No cuddly toy, but plans for world-class tests, programmes for gifted children and even lessons in thinking rained down on the country's staff rooms.

A previous great idea - Fresh Start - was given a ... well ... fresh start with plans for city academies to replace the Government's ill-fated scheme to turn around failing inner-city schools.

In fact, Fresh Start has enjoyed just about as much success as that other great millennium white elephant: the Dome.

Only one of the first 11 Fresh Start schools achieved any significant improvements in GCSE results this year and several achie-ved their worst results for years.

At least some had seen the writing on the wall - the heads of the schools themselves. In the space of just a few months, four of these highly-paid "superheads" did their bit for the country's teacher-recruitment crisis - and quit.

Happily, there were some not-so-highly-paid new recruits to swell the ranks. For the first time, student-teachers enjoyed a "salary" of up to pound;6,000. Without resorting to bribery, or rather "incentive packages", the profession would have reached "meltdown" this year, Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett admitted.

But just as there is light at the end of a tunnel, there was a glimmer of hope for the profession at the bottom of a beer glass.

Yes, the Year 2000 was time for a pound;7 million campaign to sell teaching to the masses, this time on a beer mat - and also bus tickets and sandwich bags.

For their slogan, advertising executives from McCann-Erickson Manchester turned George Bernard Shaw's infamous maxim on its head: "Those who can, teach."

Whether the message will rub off on less-than-sober pub-goers or hungry sandwich-eaters remains to be seen.

The last campaign in 1997, with its slogan "No one forgets a good teacher", might have won prizes but it did little for teacher recruitment. Numbers fell by 16 per cent between 1996 and 1999.

But it wasn't just on dvertising campaigns that Mr Blunkett spent his money this year.

Indeed, he tried very hard to give every teacher the chance of a bonus, but he was stopped in his tracks: by teachers.

The National Union of Teachers argued that there had not been a proper consultation on the plans. A High Court judge agreed; the NUT was jubilant while the rest of the teaching profession waved goodbye to the prospect of an early holiday in the sun.

While Mr Blunkett might have tried and failed to give away extra cash, Prudence's boyfriend, the Chancellor Gordon Brown, certainly did not. Education was the beneficiary of not just one, but two budget bonanzas this year.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Or rather, where there's cash, there must be a target. That's certainly what Treasury officials thought.

So keen were they to link their new-found generosity to targets that they demanded improvements in literacy, numeracy, science and information and communications technology tests for 14-year-olds. ICT tests? Over at the DFEE, no one had ever heard of them. Not surprisingly, because there aren't any. But civil servants are trying to put that right.

It was the year of the Australian Olympic extravaganza, but any hope of future British medals in swimming risk as little chance of success as they did this year if an Office for Standards in Education survey is anything to go by.

It found that more than half of primary schools had marginalised swimming lessons to devote more time to literacy and numeracy.

Music has suffered a similar fate. If the year got off on a high musical note, with Tony Blair holding hands with the Queen for a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne, it certainly did not end on one.

Despite the Government's pound;60m-a-year commitment to support music in schools, a survey in The TES found the number of primary schools offering children free instrumental lessons had almost halved in two years in spite of David Blunkett's promise to make such lessons available to all.

The literacy and numeracy hours have now popped up in secondary schools to tackle the "wholly-unacceptable" lack of progress in literacy and numeracy from age 11 to 14.

Finally, it was also the year that the teaching profession heard an apology from OFSTED.

In true David-and-Goliath style, Crown Woods school in Eltham mounted a legal challenge after being branded a failure, the first school ever to take such action.

A day before the two were due to meet in the High Court, OFSTED agreed to retract the decision to put the school into special measures.

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