Blunkett regrets teachers' gloom;Interview;David Blunkett

1st May 1998 at 01:00
Geraldine Hackett talks to the Education Secretary on the anniversary of Labour's election.

It has not escaped the notice of David Blunkett that Labour's first year of power has only depressed teachers further. Their part in the grand design to raise standards has been scripted, but they still suspect the Government is against the profession.

The Education Secretary regrets this. "They had expected soft words and what I have given them is hard action," he says.

However, he is confident that teachers will come to bask in the reflected glory of schools following huge improvements in the reading and maths skills of children. "Nothing succeeds like success. Teachers will feel they are achieving and as good practice is shared, their esteem will be lifted."

Meanwhile, tough messages on zero tolerance of failure do not go down as badly with the Treasury as they do with teachers. Mr Blunkett is optimistic that the Government's comprehensive spending review may result in increases in the education budget.

"I am arguing that substantial amounts of money will lead to substantial improvements in standards. The funding would improve the teaching environment and transform literacy and numeracy standards," he says. The results of departmental haggling will be known in July when the White Paper on public expenditure is due to appear. But chief inspector Chris Woodhead's assertion that schools as a whole are not underfunded will not have been seen as helpful.

By the end of the summer, though, ministers will be able to do more than talk tough. According to Mr Blunkett, there will be no reluctance to use new powers in the School Standards and Framework Bill. These will allow him to close failing schools and deal with local education authorities that are not providing adequate services.

But in the week before the local elections, Mr Blunkett dismisses the conspiracy theories that the Government's agenda is to limit the role of local government. "Where they (local authorities) are working well, they will be central," he says.

He is keen to see the education zone experiment expanded - with the creation of 100 before the next election - but the aim is not to find an alternative model for managing schools. "Their purpose is to raise standards in disadvantaged areas and we have managed to double the funding for the first 25," he says.

Mr Blunkett refuses to be drawn on the future of the controversial chief inspector of schools. It is constantly rumoured that Chris Woodhead has been told by Tony Blair that he will be confirmed in the chief inspector's job for another five years.

Mr Woodhead's contract has another 17 months to run and no decision has been taken about his future. "He is doing a perfectly good job and a decision will be taken nearer the time. It is not on my agenda," says Mr Blunkett.

Over the past 12 months, a quiet revolution has taken place within the Department for Education and Employment. At the centre of the department there is now a 70-strong unit which drafts much of the policy. It is headed by Professor Michael Barber, a political appointee and TES columnist.

Changes at senior management level in the department have been made, says Mr Blunkett, in order to make the organisation more outward-looking."

Professor Barber's standards and effectiveness unit will monitor the education development plans that are required from local authorities. It is also responsible for drafting policy on education action zones.

There is recognition that teachers need convincing that they are central to the standards campaign - and no one has this more in mind than Mr Blunkett.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today