Blair speech will be coup for heads

28th May 1999 at 01:00
TONY BLAIR will next week address the National Association of Head Teachers' conference - and in doing so is set to become the first prime minister to have spoken to one of the set-piece annual teacher union gatherings.

The move comes just five weeks after the Princess Royal spoke at the Secondary Heads Association conference and demonstrates the growing seriousness with which the "Establishment" is now taking the profession.

Mr Blair is expected to talk about leadership and the Government's plans to revamp teaching with proposals to link pay to teachers' performance.

He is certain to get a good reception from the NAHT when he addresses its conference in Cardiff. But Mr Blair will also be left in no doubt that heads are unhappy with the cracking pace that his Government is setting on education reform and that they want to be left alone to run their schools.

David Hart, NAHT general secretary, said his members did not doubt that the Government cared deeply about education, but added: "They are worried about the levels of overload, bureaucracy, initiatives and prescription.

"They cannot square the Government's assertion that heads should be allowed to manage their own schools with the literacy, numeracy and other strategies which started off as voluntary and ended up as near-as-damn-it compulsory.

"I think there is a real danger that heads and colleagues will feel de-skilled in terms of the ability of managing and delivering the curriculum in the way they want."

Margaret Thatcher addressed the NAHT conference as education secretary but not as PM. No education ministers are expected at next week's conference, but officials from the DFEE will be there.

Moments before Mr Blair takes the conference platform, delegates will hear from David Gray, head of Babbacome primary in Torquay and the Devon NAHT president.

He will tell the conference that it is time the Government stepped back from issuing daily educational directives and let heads get on with managing their schools.

"I would really like the Government to carry out its promise to cut down bureaucracy ... every little incident has to have a written policy."

Mr Gray will propose a 37-hour week over five terms with an 8.15am to 5.15pm working day for teachers. Children would be taught from 8.15am to 2.15pm.

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