Sackings stay on Labour's agenda

12th April 1996 at 01:00
Susan Young and Frances Rafferty report on David Blunkett's new deal for teachers

Bad teachers would be sacked but classroom conditions improved under a new deal for teachers proposed yesterday by David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman.

Promises of limited class sizes, a recruitment drive, new training schemes, improved school discipline and more money for experienced teachers were backed by plans for Government inspectors to identify poor teachers and "streamline their departure from the profession".

Labour hopes that taken as a package, it will boost professional status sufficiently to please most teachers. However, the party's determination to use the Office for Standards in Education to identify bad teachers and monitor classroom skills could set the party on collision course with the unions.

The three main teacher unions were unanimous in their condemnation of OFSTED at their annual Easter conferences, with the National Union of Teachers voting to take industrial action to defend members "victimised" by inspectors. The unions are furious with Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, for saying 15,000 teachers should lose their jobs, and are unlikely to be mollified by Mr Blunkett's retention of the scheme, even as part of a wider package.

Significantly, Mr Blunkett chose to announce the plan at the last of the three conferences, that of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' in Glasgow, although he had already revealed most of it at the earlier gatherings or in the policy document, "Excellence for Everyone", published in December.

In today's TES, he writes: "Labour expects a lot of the teaching profession and in return a great deal is expected from us. Our compact will seek to begin that process of building a new accord." The aim of his 10-point compact, he says, is to "lift the standing and the standards of the profession".

The question is whether Mr Blunkett has offered the unions a large enough carrot for them to accept the stick. Labour front-benchers are banned from making spending commitments and the only one he has made is unlikely to go far enough. He has promised that no infant classes will contain more than 30 children, a reform to be paid for by phasing out the Assisted Places Scheme. However, there is no timetable for the plan and nothing about class size for any other age group.

Mr Blunkett has also promised that a Labour government would review the funding of schools to take account of long-standing, highly-graded teachers. "The current system makes it difficult for schools to take on and retain experienced teachers," he writes.

He adds: "We are also examining how we can develop an entitlement for every child in the country below which funding will not fall." Repair and renewal of crumbling schools would, he hopes, be paid for by a partnership with banks which won support at the National Union of Teachers' conference.

Mr Blunkett also promises to boost the drive to attract highly-qualified graduates into teaching, particularly in English, maths and technology. The party hopes improved professional standing of teachers would achieve this rather than enhanced salaries.

The shadow education team believes graduates would be tempted by a new grade of advanced skills teacher and fast-tracking for those who wish to become departmental heads, deputies and headteachers. The promised General Teaching Council to monitor the profession should also, they hope, enhance status.

Teachers would also be able to continue their own education with a combination of distance learning and a network of training centres leading to an accredited diploma.

However, the newest material in the speech concerns Labour's plans for links between teaching and industry. Mr Blunkett wants to attract mature students and those who have taken early retirement from industry into the profession, and intends to explore the idea of part-time training to ease the transfer from office to classroom.

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