Expect more stress not less, warns Education Secretary

21st July 2006 at 01:00
The stresses that exams and league tables put on teachers are only likely to get worse, Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, has admitted.

Mr Johnson himself appeared stress-free this week when he received his first grilling from MPs on the Commons education select committee since taking on the job in May.

Although it was the hottest day of the year so far, he coolly batted off the watchdog's questions.

But his comments suggest that teachers have less reason to be laid back. Mr Johnson said he had spoken to teachers in Nottingham on Tuesday who had told him they felt that league tables should be abolished, a request he firmly rejected.

"I accept the pressure it puts on heads and the extra intensity and stress it puts on teachers, but it's absolutely the right thing to do - the whole kit and caboodle from Ofsted to tests," he said. "And, if anything, we need to intensify that rather than relax."

His comments came as David Willetts, Conservative shadow education secretary, claimed that the Government had moved from "education, education, education" to "testing, testing, testing".

"When we have talked about education exclusively in terms of league tables and targets we have separated ourselves from parents and teachers who feel there is something missing," he said.

Mr Johnson later said that further pressure could be placed on teachers because the Government wants pupils to get more education in teamwork and other social skills, which have been demanded by employers. "The idea is that it should be integrated across the curriculum, not half an hour a week on non-cognitive skills," he said.

The Department for Education and Skills hopes to build on its Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning project, which gives teachers training in helping pupils discuss their feelings.

Mr Johnson admitted that his computer skills were "poor to appalling", but that he was a nerd when it came to discussing university fees. "I am not an anorak - I have become a cagoule," he said.

The former higher education minister, who has been tipped as a future deputy prime minister or even for the top job, shrugged off complaints that education ministers changed jobs too often by pointing out there had been an 80 per cent turnover of postal workers when he worked as a postman in Slough.

He also dodged a question by the Conservative MP Rob Wilson who asked if the Chancellor's intention to raise spending on state-school pupils to the same level as private schools was "an aspiration or a pledge". "It's an aim," Mr Johnson replied.

An Institute for Fiscal Studies report published this week said that Mr Brown's announcement was "virtually meaningless" because it did not state when it would be achieved. It also warned that capital funding for schools was set to slow significantly.

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