Last Balls of the day? Some end-of-term musings on the main man

7th May 2010 at 01:00
With the election seemingly too close to call as The TES went to press, the time was ripe to ask: Ed Balls, man of financial nous and vision, or creator of bureaucracy and destroyer of freedoms?

Ed Balls and the last five years of the Labour Government had seen overall improvements in education but schools were subject to a "torrent" of laws and regulations, leading educationalists said this week.

Since becoming Schools Secretary in 2007, Mr Balls has dominated the education landscape, extending his remit to cover child welfare as well as schooling. This has led to progress but at the cost of more central control, they said.

Stepping into the role, Mr Balls oversaw the Department for Education and Skills become the Department for Children, Schools and Families. But by expanding his department's remit, Mr Balls has attracted praise and criticism in equal measure.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, described him as the secretary of state "with the big idea".

"He realised that you can't just look at schooling, you have to look at what impacts the child as a whole," she said.

And Dr Bousted added that his time spent in the Treasury prior to his education role, and his close relationship with Gordon Brown, meant schools were always well-served financially.

"Having been so long in the Treasury he knew his way around the finances, which has been a huge positive for schools because he knew how to secure the best possible budgets," she added.

Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union the NASUWT, said Mr Balls had shown "great commitment to backing the classroom teacher", adding that he was prepared to back the payment in full of the multi-year pay award, despite the recession.

But by heading the children's agenda John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that Mr Balls had created a "torrent of laws and regulations".

Dr Dunford added: "Like (predecessors David) Blunkett and (Charles) Clarke, he was dynamic and driven, resulting in a continuous flurry of activity. He visited more schools than any previous secretary of state and made very strong efforts to find out what was happening at ground level.

"His previous experience in the Treasury meant that he came from the 'Brown School of Government', in which every problem has a centrally driven solution and this, allied to his natural impatience, led to a much stronger regulatory climate in which schools had to work."

For John Howson, head of Education Data Surveys, Mr Balls was a "lucky rather than a successful secretary of state".

"He was lucky that the recession caused more quality people to enter teacher training, and he reaped the rewards of a number of years' investment thanks to his predecessors," Mr Howson said.

He added: "It is therefore difficult to attack him, particularly when you look at London, because things have got considerably better there. There have been far fewer complaints as more people have been getting a better education."

But despite the levels of investment over the past five years, Mr Balls still has work to do, particularly when it comes to addressing the needs of the lowest-attaining schools, according to Sir Cyril Taylor, who sits on the board of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust.

"More than 20 per cent of 11-year-olds are unable to read properly, which is a major issue," he said.

"Mr Balls has watered down the powers of academies, and by doing so watered down the impact of the academies programme.

"There are still more than 260 schools - 200,000 children - which are very poor, and this is what the academies movement was supposed to address."

FROM THE TES FORUMS

Off with his Ed: online anger takes aim at Schools Secretary

ed_ant2002

I've really appreciated the way (Ed Balls) has genuinely connected with teachers' synergy and reflected his internalised concept recognition of our day-to-day working, the pressures and contemporary challenges of diverse portfolio workloading and our core ethos values matrix as bilaterally-interfacing 21st century curriculum delivery operatives. Sometimes, it's been almost like he's one of us! Fabulous.

blazer

We have had some right idiots over the years; we have also had one or two who knew what they were doing. Sadly, Balls won't be remembered as either. Just your run-of-the-mill ineptitude, probably spent more time filling in his expenses forms than he did worrying about schools.

geffone

As a supply (teacher), the Labour Government, Ed Balls and the quangos voted us lot out. So I am voting this lot out. The new government, be it Labour or whoever, will not change things for us.

wasteoftime

Ed Balls must surely win the prize for the most aptly named Schools Secretary. His policies have been poorly thought out and equally poorly presented. And he obviously has great belief in himself and the Labour party, judging by his desperate attempts to get people to vote tactically so that Labour can cling on to power. How cynical is that?

dizziblonde

The thing with dear Mr Balls is that his name is so wonderfully suffixed with the word "up" to describe most of his achievements within the field of education. I can't welcome anyone who presided over the rubbish his administration has hurled (and attempted to hurl) at supply teachers. He inspires the warm glow of an urge to punch my hand through the TV screen when he appears on it (more so when he opens his mouth and begins to speak).

dekka

He sent me a letter when I retired. He may have said nice things about me but I don't know as I put it straight in the bin.

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