Steady stride into a year of caring

22nd December 2006 at 00:00
So the year that came in with Ruth Kelly battling for her job in a storm over paedophiles in schools slips away quietly as a sure-footed Alan Johnson prepares to explain to teachers at last what that word "personalisation" means.

Mr Johnson's tenure as Education Secretary has been remarkable for its calm. He has paid teachers the compliment of letting them get on with their jobs. There have been few speeches, fewer initiatives. Perhaps he has realised that much is going well, and that the problems are not susceptible to a quick government wheeze.

While an ignorant committee of MPs may rant about failing schools, the reality, as most of Whitehall acknowledges, is that we have the best young teachers ever. Young teachers, a recent study from Nottingham and London universities found, get better results than their older colleagues. They are enthusiastic, well-trained and pragmatic enough to please any Blairite.

Synthetic phonics? Fine, if they work. Ofsted? They can live with it.

Among senior teachers, feelings are more muted. One complains on our inbox page that he is being asked to fill in yet another government survey, this time about formula capital (see page 18). The survey doesn't even come directly from the Government but from consultants who have been paid to carry it out. Unless we can persuade younger teachers that being a head isn't all about bureaucracy and taking the blame, we shall run out of school leaders in about 15 years' time.

What will 2007 bring as Gordon Brown steps into Tony Blair's shoes? The omens are good. The push to solve education's problems by creating new types of school is running out of steam. Trust schools, introduced in legislation this year, and originally punted as another privileged group, are now being sold to heads as a way of encouraging collaboration.

A decade ago, ministerial talk was of naming and shaming schools and zero tolerance of incompetent teachers. Mr Johnson says looked-after children, the subject of The TES's Time to Care campaign, are his priority. If he continues as he has begun, teachers can expect a more tranquil new year.

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