Crises confuse the ministers' messages

19th January 2001 at 00:00
LIMBERING up for a spring General Election, the Prime Minister promised a pound;1 billion package giving every child in England the right to at least two hours a week of sport and physical education.

But teachers in England and Wales may have been more interested by news that Scottish teachers had won a pay rise worth 23 per cent over three years, with a 10 per cent increase for all classroom teachers in April. This is much more than the 3 to 4 per cent English and Welsh teachers are expected to get later this month.

Every time the Government comes up with money or initiatives to boost its electoral prospects, the news seemed to be marred by tales of woe from the public sector: a picture of bodies dumped in the chapel of an NHS hospital or continuing stories of schools' struggle to find teachers.

Thus while most Sunday papers carried the news that David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, was tounveil a pound;4 billion, three-year programme to repair and rebuild crumbling schools, a Sunday Telegraph poll revealed a disturbing slump in public confidence in the NHS, schools and the police. (But it also showed widespread doubts that the Tories would do any better.) And news of the Prime Minister's pound;130 million scheme to revive run-down areas by appointing "local managers" came the same day as the acting head of a school in Hertfordshire said staff shortages were forcing her to send pupils home one day a fortnight. The two largest teachers' unions seemed likely to force the issue by holding authority-wide ballots on withdrawing cover for absent colleagues in areas worst hit by recruitment problems.

So schools minister Estelle Morris was glad to announce one piece of unadulterated good news: a 10 per cent increase in the numbers recruited for postgraduate teacher-training this year.

Biddy Passmore

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