Election to cool fevered pace of reformation

29th December 2000 at 00:00
As the political parties gear up for a spring poll, the TES offers its predictions for the coming year, including a chance

Education in 2001 will be dominated by the general election with Labour the favourite to win a second term.

With a spring poll looking increasingly likely the political parties are already raring to get into election mode. William Hague will have just months to persuade the nation that his Free Schools idea - where all will be able to select in world without local authorities is a goer.

For schools the campaign could prove a welcome break from new initiatives as Labour's manifesto looks likely to promise delivery of existing pledges rather than extra schemes for schools.

The Government is prepared to be judged on its record of raising standards and transforming primary schools and promises to do the same for secondaries if it wins a second term.

The Prime Minister has already promised to raise national spending on education. As ever the money will be tied to targets - but these have already been announced - so there should be few nasty surprises for schools.

But 2001 seems set to be a mixed year as far as teachers' morale is concerned.

On the one hand schools may at last experience some of the promised "feel good factor" when they begin to receive the bulk of Labour's increased education spending, which was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in July's spending review.

But before then schools must get through the spring term and a possible recruitment meltdown.

January is likely to be a bad month for schools with heads forced to decide whether to cover up staff shortages or admit crisis.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, is in no doubt that more schools will have to adopt part-time schooling for pupils. "There is no question about it," he said.

Recruitment analyst John Howson added: "Heads are under enormous emotional and professional pressure not to go down that road, but the more that do it, the easier it becomes."

Just three schools - Corby community college, Beechwood in Slough and Upbury Manor in Medway - are known to have introduced part-time education in 2000. All three have now returned to full-time schooling.

A flu epidemic at the start of the year would be disastrous. London schools already use 4,000 supply staff every day and Britain's teacher shortage will not go away.

Sickness rates are usually high in January and spring is traditionally boom time for supply teachers arriving from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

But with schools in the southern hemisphere feeling the effects of a worldwide shortage of eachers themselves, the import market may no longer provide the solution.

The profession will look to the Government for answers in pay and conditions and to Tony Blair to demonstrate that education really will his number one election priority. But the nurses settlement of 3.7 per cent per cent does not bode well, especially as ministers will point to the extra pound;2,000 threshold money that should eventually reach teachers' pockets.

Secondary schools will face a challenging year as all will be expected to adopt new literacy and numeracy strategies for 11 to 14-year-olds in September 2001.

English and maths specialists will start training to deliver the secondary versions of the literacy and numeracy strategy from Easter.

The strategy could also worsen the recruitment crisis if many specialists leave the classroom tempted by lucrative jobs as the local authority advisers who will train colleagues to implement the strategy.

Meanwhile the Standards and Effectiveness Unit will roll out the secondary science and thinking skills programmes which will involve most teachers of 11 to 14-year-olds.

Ministers also have yet to decide how they plan to get primaries to start teaching modern foreign languages, given the shortage of teachers and the enormous cost of training.

The improvement in writing standards has yet to be successfully tackled in primary schools. While the literacy strategy has boosted children's reading, writing, particularly for boys, is still a problem.

The only education legislation planned by the Government in its next session is a Bill giving disabled children greater access to educational institutions and further safeguards against discrimination.

March will also see the start of Chris Woodhead's new career as an education commentator for the Daily Telegraph. After three months of "gardening leave" Mr Woodhead is expected to resume his role as a thorn in the government's side by criticising their policies in the run-up to the election.

Speculation about Mr Woodhead's successor will continue in 2001 as the current chief inspector, Mr Woodhead's former deputy Mike Tomlinson, has only been appointed for a year.

Even if Labour wins a second term, 2001 is likely to see many changes at the top of the education tree. David Blunkett is being touted as future Home Secretary with Stephen Byers the favourite to replace him though some are talking up the virtues of junior education minister Estelle Morris. Ministers may also have a battle on their hands in 2001 with their plans to remove governors' responsibilities for staff appointments, which many governors see as crucial to their strategic role.

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