Shadow of disappointment;Secondary Heads Association's annual conference

30th April 1999 at 01:00
Nicolas Barnard reports on the burning issues raised at the Secondary Heads Association's annual conference

IT IS almost two years since the newly-elected Labour Government named and shamed 18 failing schools. It was an easy headline and a statement of intent, but for teachers it was a defining moment that cast a shadow over everything ministers have done since.

It marked the moment when the expectations of teachers for Labour, so high after 18 years of Tory rule, were rudely shattered. John Dunford, addressing the Secondary Heads Association in Brighton last Saturday, was not the first general secretary to refer to it; nor is he likely to be the last.

SHA is keen to say it believes ministers are now listening - it scored a hit in persuading them to drop the ill-developed value-added indicators last year.

But still, the disappointment seeps through. Heads say they have seen little of the billions Labour claims it has pumped in - the biggest round of applause at the conference went to a head who demanded of Estelle Morris why his budget was falling.

"Will you finance your primary reforms with new money, or will you continue to allow secondary budgets to be plundered?" Mr Dunford demanded of ministers.

Mr Dunford's theme in his first conference address as general secretary was an ironic plus ca change - everything has changed and yet nothing. It contained a plea for teachers to be trusted more, with lighter touch inspections, more school self-evaluation and an end to key stage 3 tests - "a complete waste of public money".

He also attacked the Government's love of targets - "simple, measurable, easily understandable.... but we don't have national targets for some of the most important aspects of school life - breadth of education, pastoral care, relationships, growing up into responsible adults."

Judith Mullen, SHA president, added to the criticism of ministers with an attack on the failure of social exclusion policies. "Schools will be held responsible for all society's ills unless we make the Government understand the need to tackle inclusion issues from many standpoints, not simply from within our schools," she said After Ms Morris's cool reception, International Development Secretary Clare Short won the weekend's biggest ovation with her defence of humanitarian education - and her wry digs at Labour's education policy. It seemed to underline Mr Dunford's point: the things heads value most cannot be measured in tables or enforced through shaming.

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