Confidence in Clarke shaken

27th June 2003 at 01:00
Charles Clarke is a minister of immense capability. His appointment as Education Secretary in the wake of Estelle Morris's resignation last October underlined the importance to Labour of restoring faith in this crucial area of public service. This week, two important revelations underline Mr Clarke's difficulties.

An ICM poll in the Guardian suggests that in the past three months public confidence in Labour's education improvements has slumped. In March a slim majority reckoned education had got better since 1997. Now, 36 per cent say things are getting worse. Only 19 per cent think they are improving.

Earlier this year, of course, we were all expecting record increases in school spending: rises that would underpin the "historic" workload agreement to make teaching a sought-after and sustainable career once again. Those increases proved to be an illusion. The resulting funding crisis even seemed to take Mr Clarke's department unawares.

The second piece of evidence this week was less unexpected, but no less important. Alan Smithers's research into increased teacher wastage (page 3) confirmed again its causes: workload, above all else, but also too many government initiatives and pupil behaviour. Pay seems less important except for teachers struggling to set up home in high-cost areas.

The drain of teachers may not have been quite as bad in 2002 as in 2001, but too many attracted to teaching are leaving within a year or two. And raising the retirement age to 65 will not stop older teachers rushing for the exit before 60 unless their professional lives are made more bearable.

The workload deal that was supposed to secure this now looks fragile. The big costs come in the next two years, but now Mr Clarke also has huge deficits to restore in many schools. Eight months on, he and his colleagues have even more of an uphill battle to restore public and professional confidence.

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