Ringing in a New Year of resolutions for all...

7th January 2005 at 00:00
Still nursing that hangover from 2004? Then brace yourselves for the next 12 months. Graeme Paton reports

The world of education is likely be quite a different place come January 2006.

Inspectors, armed with a new smash-and-grab style regime, will be creeping up on teachers with only a few days' notice.

The country's biggest headteachers' union will have a new leader for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. And the first TV channel just for teachers will be on screen 24 hours a day.

But 2005 starts with a new Education Secretary and a General Election, provisionally pencilled in for May, is unlikely to result in a new face at No 10. But Labour's largely unassailable lead in the Commons will not stop blood being shed on the election battleground.

Discipline will, inevitably, be a key focus for all the main parties and politicians are sure to be wrestling for votes over early years and child care. The main spotlight is likely to fall on Ruth Kelly, parachuted in as education secretary from the Cabinet Office, and the legislation she will be responsible for steering through Parliament in the first few months of the year.

An early test will be a White Paper on education in response to the Tomlinson proposals on 14-19 reform. Tony Blair has already expressed doubts about some of the more radical aspects of the blueprint, which calls for a diploma to replace stand-alone qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds, and Ms Kelly is unlikely to deviate from her leader's line that GCSEs and A-levels should be retained.

She could delay any final, potentially contentious, decision on Tomlinson until after the election. But Ms Kelly is unlikely to put the brakes on another key element of the Government's pre-election drive, the Education Bill, which ministers will hope can be passed before May.

The Bill is being seen as an attempt to wrest further power from local councils by giving schools greater autonomy. Along with a promise of guaranteed three-year budgets and the introduction of school profiles to replace annual governors' reports and parents' meetings, the Bill will extend the rights of private groups to compete with local authorities to run state-funded secondary schools.

It is not only headteachers whose freedoms will be increased under the legislation. The Bill will also outline changes for inspectors, giving them the power to drop in on schools with only a few days' warning, compared to the present six to ten weeks.

Schools can also expect more regular visits. The gap between inspections will be cut from six to three years, although it will not be a complete free-for-all for inspectors, who will be expected to focus on core subjects and cut their reports to between four and six pages of text.

Ministers will also hope to reach out to the electorate with a series of new initiatives for children. Their Youth Green paper, due this month, will outline how schools and other services should be improving support for teenagers. More details are expected to emerge in the Government's drive to promote more joined-up support for children and the country's first Children's Commissioner to champion children's rights will be named.

Should all this fail to win over the public, and the Tories emerge victorious, even more change will be on the way. The party has already vowed to abolish appeals panels for expelled pupils and they said that pound;5.7 billion could be saved from the education budget by making schools self-governing and axing a series of Government quangos.

Change is also expected at the top of some of education's most influential organisations. The National College for School Leadership (which would be closed down under a Michael Howard government) is likely to name a successor to chief executive Heather Du Quesnay early in the New Year.

David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, will stand down in the summer after 27 years in charge of the country's biggest headteachers' union, and a heated debate is likely to surround his successor. The union's national council has chosen David Hawker, director of children, families and schools at Brighton and Hove, as its preferred candidate. But the decision has provoked a strong reaction among some NAHT members, and Mick Brookes, a Nottinghamshire junior head and former NAHT president, is expected to challenge.

Whoever gets the top job, their number one priority is likely to be the workforce agreement. September will be the moment of truth for the deal, designed to lighten teachers' workload, when schools will have to introduce easily the most expensive and toughest phase of the agreement, guaranteeing teachers 10 per cent planning preparation and assessment time.

The move should not be too much of a problem for most secondaries, but many primaries warn they will struggle to afford it. Noises of protest are only likely to get louder as the year progresses and there is still a possibility that grassroots NAHT members could force a special conference discussing whether to pull out. Elsewhere on the union front, the next 12 months will see Steve Sinnott, the new(ish) National Union of Teachers general secretary, attempting some deft political footwork to get relations with the Government and its partner unions back on course without compromising its objection to the workforce agreement over the principle of only teachers taking classes.

The coming year could also be critical for private schools, which are likely to discover whether they face prosecution for contravening competition laws. More than 60 schools are under investigation by the Office of Fair Trading amid claims they met regularly to fix fees.

At least teachers will have one thing to take their minds off all these changes -the launch next month of Teachers' TV, a 24-hour digital channel packed with classroom makeovers, lesson ideas and fly-on-the-wall documentaries.

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