Bruiser takes off his gloves

11th April 2003 at 01:00
For a politician with the reputation of a "bruiser", Charles Clarke has made a surprisingly gentle entry into the world of education. Not long ago, the beaming Education Secretary was photographed joining hands with union leaders to celebrate the workload deal. During the past fortnight, however, all that has changed. He has told local authorities that requests for money just "flood straight over my head". He has urged governors and local education authorities to be ruthless in "taking out" bad headteachers and has angered Newcastle parents by telling them that they "lack aspiration" for their children.

The cosy relationship which prompted the workload camaraderie is surely at an end. Mr Clarke has the heads of "coasting" schools in his sights and intends to destroy them by using two weapons: value-added league tables and the leadership incentive grant, designed to improve leadership in difficult schools and provide enough money to give failing heads a City-sized pay-off.

Both are controversial. Critics are lining up to lambast the Government's first version of value-added tables, published last autumn. Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon of Durham University told MPs this week that the methodology was flawed. Last week, the Specialist Schools Trust also took issue with Whitehall's number-crunchers and produced its own value-added list. Step forward in this week's TES Bob Dingle, head of Seaham technology school, Durham, struggling near the bottom of the trust's tables but doing rather better in the government version. He points to an Ofsted report which says his school is improving and that he is "energetic". Should Dr Dingle be on the hit list?

Even if he is, Mr Clarke will not be able to "take him out" without the co-operation of the school's governors. But the pound;125,000-a-year leadership incentive grant will be a powerful tool for coercing schools and LEAs. Schools will need government approval for their plans to spend it.

Weak deputies and heads of department are also in the firing line.

None of this sounds like an agenda for a government that professes to value teachers' co-operation and promotes "collaboration" and "partnership" as its new buzzwords. The Bruiser is back.

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