Blair's legacy: a profession at ease with itself

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
Tony Blair and I don't have a great deal in common. I can't play the guitar and my deputy has only one car, which is just as well as "Two Skodas Brooksy" is not quite the stuff of headlines.

I'd rather spend a day handcuffed to Chris Woodhead than listen to the Bee Gees, and the closest I've ever come to a free holiday was when a friend lent me his beach hut for the day at Frinton-on-Sea. However, I did start at this school just after Tony became Prime Minister, and the changes we have experienced offer a measure of how well he has delivered on his mantra of "education, education, education".

It's all been about a change of air. The most tangible sign of that change is our infrastructure. This school used to be a collection of buildings that looked as if they had been bought from a jumble sale. Music and drama were camped in a damp old Victorian primary school. We had HORSAs, a long-lost acronym for 1940s concrete prefabs, and ROSLAs, the system-built boxes dropped all over the country to cope with extra numbers when the school leaving age was raised. We had a metallic humanities block that looked and felt like four giant sardine tins had been welded together, Elliott mobile blocks and wooden prefabs unique to this part of the world and known quaintly as "Devon Ladies" (I have no idea why).

I'm sorry if the cash has not yet reached you, but pound;10 million over 10 years has transformed us. Good buildings raise self-esteem and expectations, sending messages to staff and students about what they deserve, how much they are valued and the importance of what they are about. This is what the Government has achieved - since former education secretary David Blunkett stopped trying to suffocate everyone with top-down strategies and targets.

That is why the National College for School Leadership building in Nottingham is so vital. It is light, airy, inspirational, a symbol of the value placed on the importance of education and school leadership. It is an iconic lungful of Tony's Cool Britannia, blowing away the chalky, leather-patched tweed and making way for modern professionals at ease with technology and a rapidly changing world.

Pressures on teachers have risen, but so have rewards. Pay has increased markedly, as have the numbers of staff who support us in our work. There were three teaching assistants when I started; now there are 18, alongside department secretaries, personal assistants and pastoral workers, who have all helped to bring working practices into a more businesslike world. No longer do our teachers mark piles of exercise books on their knees in a smoky staffroom.

Accountability is still growing, spotlit not just by Ofsted but the sophistication of data that exposes the progress - or lack of it - of your classes. Current moves towards lighter inspections which validate self-evaluation, supported by school improvement partners (SIPs), are right and show that the Government has listened to what we have been saying. The new Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's curriculum allows teachers once more to design learning in the ways they think are most effective.

And have standards risen? It depends which newspaper you read. I see students who are better taught by more confident and professional teachers in better resourced schools. There is a more varied and appropriate curriculum and wider opportunities than 10 years ago. It grieves me to praise any politician, but I think Tony's done his bit. He has answered our pleas for greater autonomy and freedom. Now it's up to us.

Roger Popeis principal of Kingsbridge community college in Devon

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