Blunkett's sudden hostility to red tape

25th May 2001 at 01:00
IT'S amazing what an election can do. After four years imposing more and more new initiatives on teachers, both Tony Blair and David Blunkett this week called for a reduction in red tape.

In response to criticism that they were strangling public sector staff, the Prime Minister announced a new "deregulation unit" to reduce paperwork. Cynics might assume that this was just a ploy to gain a few extra votes.

But the out-going Education Secretary, at least, seems to have another motive.

He wants his successor to reduce workload, get teachers on-side and "carry on what we're doing. The propensity to stamp your own authority is enormous. It's an impossible request but I think the teaching profession does need consistency."

What Stephen Byers made of that is anyone's guess. By coincidence, Mr Byers, the hot-tip to succeed Blunkett, happened to appear on the Today programme earlier in the week to say that more needed to be done to improve education.

hile Mr Blunkett was trying to protect his legacy, Elizabeth Phillips, the head of St Marylebone school, was attacking his four years in the pages of The Daily Telegraph . The girls' comprehensive in Westminster, London claims the title of most improved secondary in England. "The one thing the Government can claim to have done is create a teacher supply crisis," she said.

Mrs Phillips had more impact than the Tories. Most of the media ignored their three point-plan to tackle the recruitment crisis. But the Tories got support from Chris Woodhead, the man who does not want to be the next Conservative education spokes-man in the Lords. He accused Labour of "paying lip-service to parent power", but agreed with Mr Blunkett on one point. "It is not big ideas and new initiatives that are required in education. It is the, yes, common-sense recognition that it is teachers, not Secretaries of State, who make the difference." Not new ones anyway.

Jon Slater


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