Blunkett's last days as Aunt Sally

11th May 2001 at 01:00
Will politics begin to dominate the news now that the election date is fixed, or will the Ronnie Biggs saga and the Jill Dando trial continue to occupy acres of space? In any case, we have only a month's agony to go. Triple education will no doubt be the rallying cry.

In the meantime, David Blunkett is still managing to annoy teachers in his last days as Education Secretary. The feisty National Association for the Teaching of English is gearing up for a fight over the introduction of the literacy hour in secondary schools from September. A survey of teachers who have been piloting the plans shows 88 per cent believe it would adversely affect teaching of the subject.

But Mr Blunkett could take comfort from another survey which showed that most headteachers believed that, despite their initial fears, the literacy and numeracy hours have improved children's performance in primary schools.

His ambitious targets for reducing expulsions also came under fire for putting teachers at risk. Figures showed that the number of permanent exclusions in England fell from 12,700 in 1996-97 to 8,600 in 1999-2000 - just 200 short of the target that schools have to reach by September next year. Teachers' leaders, notably Nigel de Gruchy of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, claime that the reduction had come at a high price, with too many violent and disruptive children left in the classroom.

Mr de Gruchy was, however, pleased with reports that police are being stationed in schools in inner-city Southwark, the London borough where 10-year-old Damilola Taylor was stabbed to death. "It's a good idea and it is about 20 years too late," he told the Daily Mail which, with the Daily Telegraph, reported the news at length, naturally linking it to Labour's failure to get to grips with youth crime.

Scotland Yard said 19 schools will each have their own permanent police officer to support staff. "We are not getting into an American model of security arches and security guards," said a spokesman. "Our officers will provide a police service to young people who are vulnerable and having crime committed against them. We are trying to create a safe place for people to go to school."

The Department for Education and Employment distanced itself from the scheme, telling the Mail that it was a matter for the police and the local authority. However, should Labour win a second term and David Blunkett, as widely predicted, become Home Secretary, he will be keen to apppear as tough on crime as he has been on teachers; and Labour could fulfil its promise of "joined-up government".

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