Bell's top spin and Tomlinson's off spin

24th December 2004 at 00:00
This was the year of top-up fees, Tomlinson and tiny tots. It started with Charles Clarke, then Education Secretary, squeaking through a Commons vote on fees by five votes and ended with Tony Blair and Michael Howard, the Tory leader, battling for the elusive toddlers' vote.

Steve Sinnott became general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, but did not inherit Doug McAvoy's media savvy. His defence of GCSEs from a CBI attack resulted in a clear win for bosses' leader Digby Jones. But Mr Sinnott must share the Worst Union Spinner title with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which helped stoke the annual A-levels dumbing-down row with a report calling A-level grading "a lottery".

By contrast David Miliband, who moved from being schools minister to the Cabinet Office this month, was taking on all-comers portraying critics of the standards of A-levels and GCSEs, as despicable knockers of middle England's talented offspring. Even if the Daily Telegraph called this "Milibabble", the judges felt Mr Miliband's chutzpah merited the Best Government Spinner award.

Chris Keates took over as general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. Defending her union's opposition to school trips, she effectively turned the tables on our increasingly litigious society, and is honoured with the Best Union Spinner title.

Former chief inspector Mike Tomlinson spent the year winning over the education world to his plans for a new diploma. So much so that he forgot about the newspapers. Consequently, his October report took a pasting from most leader writers, sending both Mr Blair and Mr Howard rushing to defend the status quo. For this, Mr Tomlinson is Worst Government Spinner.

This year sees a new Most Promising Spinner of the Year award - for promising to deliver the most in the shortest time. The award goes to Tim Collins, the shadow education secretary, who pledged to sort out school discipline, scrap top-up fees, extend school choice and sack two-thirds of his civil servants - all in his first week in office.

Prince Charles's internal memo querying the unreasonable aspirations of young people today, which prompted a rapid put-down from Mr Clarke, won him our Edward VII Memorial Spinner award.

But a strategy engineered by his wiser courtiers rapidly elevated his Prince's Trust to sainthood, and forced Mr Clarke to retreat. Charles's wise courtiers* therefore win runners-up for Spinner of the Year.

But this was not enough to unseat the winner: he made headlines working Buffy the Vampire Slayer into a dull speech; sold slimmed-down inspections as "a short sharp shock"; and found time to give his own organisation Ofsted a glowing report. For the second year, Spinner of the Year is chief inspector David Bell.

* Professor Chris Woodhead and Ms Melanie Phillips were excluded from this citation.

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