Education's Mr Big

29th December 2000 at 00:00
It was the year of one man and his dog. John Howson and Jeremy Sutcliffe assess who and what counted, in The TES annual poll.

SO the millennium year is nearly over. Chris Woodhead, the controversial chief inspector of schools, has packed his bags and will soon be moving to his new office in Canary Wharf, where he will be sharpening his pencil as an opinion writer for the Daily Telegraph.

It was sometimes said that Mr Woodhead, under both Tory and Labour prime ministers, was the real Education Secretary. But when it comes to the most talked-about people in education, the official incumbent in Sanctuary Buildings, David Blunkett, is in a class of his own.

While Mr Woodhead confirmed his status as one of education's "holy trinity" by edging Tony Blair into third place this year, Mr Blunkett earned more than twice as many mentions in The TES. Clearly, another good year for a politician still on his way up in the world.

But for readers seriously interested in reputations perhaps the most significant names of the year are - in order of importance - John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, Estelle Morris, the school standards minister and Nigel de Gruchy, veteran leader of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers.

These are the names which - taking a leaf out of the Government's school improvement index - have shown the biggest sustained increase in mentions since 1998, the year The TES introduced its annual "performance" measure based on the number of mentions in the paper. Following his appointment to SHA's top job in April 1998, Mr Dunford has now firmly established himself as the voice of secondary headteachers, with 71 more mentions than two years ago. His public profile is now level with the media-savvy David Hart, general secretary of the rival National Association of Head Teachers. Only Nigel de Gruchy, who also showed an increase in mentions over each of the past two years (up 44), has a more successful record in getting his name into The TES aided by an astute campaign to force the Government to respond to teachers' concerns about pupil behaviour and exclusions.

Ms Morris, however (43 more mentions since 1998), may be the one to watch next year. As Mr Blunkett's loyal No 2 she has proved a safe pair of hands and - as a former teacher - a reassuring figure at the heart of the Government's education reforms. She has recently been tipped for promotion to a Cabinet post in the event of a Blair victory in the forthcoming election.

Among other politicians, the schools minister Jacqui Smith ties with Tory leader William Hague with 65 mentions, while Opposition education spokeswoman Theresa May (39), just outscores Phil Willis, the former headteacher now speaking for the Liberal Democrats in the Commons (32). But Mr Willis's boss Charles Kennedy has failed to make much impact on the education scene, with just 10 mentions. Mr Blunkett's guide dog, Lucy,was mentioned more on 24.

The buzzword of the year was "curriculum" (2,487 mentions), overturning "standards" which was the most mentioned term last year. Generally, there was little change from last year in the language of education, but several new indicators, introduced for the first time in 2000 and reflecting recent trends in education, are already making an impact. These include "professional development" (313 mentions), private sectorprivatisation (268) information and communications technology (274) and citizenship (234). The Department for Education and Employment (1098) outscored the Office for Standards in Education (776), another indication of where the real power lies. Meanwhile, another quango has arrived on the scene, with the General Teaching Council meriting 226 mentions. Two buzzwords which have shown the biggest "sustained" increase in each of the past two years are "governors" (up 194 since 1998) and "exclusions" (up 188). With politicians promising to devolve even more power to schools and pledging to clamp down on bad behaviour, these may well be ones to watch in 2001.

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