Say yip(ee) when out of the woods

30th March 2001 at 01:00
A better week for David Blunkett as he got a friendly welcome at the Secondary Heads' Association's gathering - the first in the annual round of union conferences. Although he was rebuked over plans to create specialist selective schools, he fared better than Conservative leader William Hague whose promise to "set schools free" was greeted with polite scepticism. Heads, no doubt, warmed to his admission that Tories were as much to blame for the red tape as Labour. But that's probably not enough to give him their vote.

The Education Secretary must have thought he was out of the industrial relations woods towards the end of last week with his suggestion that teachers covering for absent colleagues be paid overtime. However, he has been forced to wait for the outcome of more talks between employers and the Nation Union of Teachers. In the meantime more children were sent the care of delinquent parents?

For it was parents this time, not teachers, that Mr Blunkett chose to target in his conference speech. In nanny-state mode, he threatened mothers and fathers of unruly children with parenting classes, introduced last year to help curb juvenile crime. The scheme's extension to schools, along with other measures in a pound;174 million package to tackle truancy and indiscipline, was approved by heads.

Another social exclusion initiative came from the Youth Justice Board in a fine example of joined-up government. The outh Inclusion Programmes(YIPs), based in 70 high-crime areas, will offer bored teenage truants and young offenders classes in graffiti art and disc-jockeying techniques, among others.

This is merely re-inventing the wheel, say some who remember the intermediate treatment projects for young tearaways in the 1970s which, like YIPs, included lessons on drug abuse, health care, literacy, sport and recreation. This enlightened programme was followed by short, sharp shocks, boot camps and an increase in recidivism.

First the iron fist, then the velvet glove: Tony Blair softened up parents with another wheeze to give them more choice and push up standards. Nurseries and playgroups will get star ratings, like hotels. His wife, Cherie, will be the patron of Investors in Children, the scheme aimed to inform parents about facilities and set incentives for providers.

In a week featuring parents, it's fitting to end with the story of an unnamed seven-year-old girl who lost a High Court battle for the legal right to wear earrings to school and not be excluded from games and playtime. The judge ruled that Cwmfelinfach primary in Newport, Gwent, was entitled to exclude her on health and safety grounds. But, in a display of common sense, he appealed to both sides to settle the case, costing the legal aid fund and the education authority thousands of pounds, without further legal action.

Diane Spencer

News, 10

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