As members of the two biggest unions began industrial action over teacher shortages in more than 1,000 schools in London and Doncaster, David Blunkett launched a broadside. "If you walk out on a class and send the kids home, you damage their life chances," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
In a series of outspoken interviews, he said he was not prepared to be bullied into submission nor tolerate the kind of industrial unrest seen in the mid-1980s. But Doug McAvoy of the National Union of Teachers called it "emotional blackmail".
The war of words obscured the Government's latest initiative to tempt teachers back into the classroom - the 10th measure announced so far to ease shortages. Mr Blunkett joined the Prime Minister in a visit to Southfield community college, Wandsworth, to launch a pound;200 million package which included "golden welcome backs" of pound;2,000, and pound;4,000 in shortage subjects, and help for transport, housing or care for elderly relatives. An unimpressed Nigel de Gruchy of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said: "The Government is panicking a little, butnot before time."
Graham Lane, chairman of the employers' organisation, the Local Government Association, backed the Education Secretary, with warnings that teachers that refused to cover for absent colleagues could face pay deductions of up to pound;250 a day. The winners in this desperate situation are the teaching supply agencies, as Mr Blunkett was told in no uncertain terms by Jacqueline Vallin, head of Southfield. She pointed out that prices charged by the agencies had risen from pound;120 a day to pound;170, while the amount received by teachers remained about pound;100.
Teaching Personnel, one of the county's largest supply agencies, said it now had to lure people from other areas with guarantees of accommodation and a regular wage. And it now appears that teachers are getting streetwise. Capita, another agency, said some were demanding an extra pound;20 or so on top of the daily rate.
With all this furore, some Labour MPs who face defeat in marginal seats will see another good reason not to return to their old jobs as teachers, despite their masters' best efforts to entice them back.