Error lets press pack pounce

9th August 2002 at 01:00
Downing Street urges ministers to feed hacks with good news stories. And with his visit to the new Academy for Gifted and Talented youth last week, new school standards minister David Miliband must have earned plenty of brownie points in Number 10.

The sight of eager young mathematical geniuses waxing lyrical on BBC2's Newsnight about this quintessentially New Labour project was a winner.

But this week's decision to re-publicise January's teacher numbers was a mistake. The provisional figures, showing overall teacher numbers at a "20 year high", were first published on April 24 - barely three months ago. And the final data were not significantly different.

The Department had no new angle, so journalists and unions were bound to find one for them. And so the fact that there are now three times more "unqualified teachers" than when Labour came to power became the story.

"Heads fill the gaps with unqualified teachers" said the Daily Mail claimed while The Guardian highlighted union and opposition complaints that teacher shortages were "not being taken seriously".

Ministers rightly point out the huge growth in teacher recruitment, and the fall in vacancies. They were angry that this improvement was belittled in many April stories. But it was unwise to expect anything better re-releasing the figures in the silly season.

Surely there must be other good summer camps to keep duty ministers occupied until students get their exam results?

Conor Ryan was special adviser to David Blunkett 1997-2001

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