Spinning standards;Leading Article

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
REACTION TO the Standards and Quality report was predictable. The balanced verdict in both the summary of HMI's findings (page four) and the senior chief's personal assessment was lost in newspaper reporting, which amounted to a chronicle of failing schools, headteachers and pupils. The Sweeney sums it up (page 25) as "varying degrees of gleeful vindictiveness", and his headteacher resentment will be felt equally in staffrooms across the country. So is there similar gnashing of teeth at Victoria Quay, home to HMI and policy-makers?

It seems no. It would be naive to assume that the minister and her officials did not guess how the story would play in the press. One must assume that the spin-doctors predicted the headlines and that there remained a point to launching the report in the way it appeared.

So it hardly takes a Machiavelli (or even a Charlie Whelan) to work out the agenda. The minister is about to produce a White Paper which will form the basis of Labour's education strategy for the May elections. Helen Liddell needs to attract attention to the proposals in her paper and submit them to the verdict of both the mass electorate and the teaching profession. What better than to face down her critics of last week, who accused her of complacency, than by producing a raft of proposals aimed at raising standards and rooting out incompetent teachers? You asked for action and here is what we intend, would be the crisp summary.

But what about the teachers, always important to Labour thinking and the party's organisation in the constituencies? Some parts of the White Paper may prove disturbing but there will be compensations as well. Teachers are the first to want incompetent colleagues out of the way. If Millennium Review negotiations between employers and unions make progress, there will be money on the table, and the Government knows that might sweeten several pills.

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