Teachers' new pet

24th March 2000 at 00:00
GORDON Brown is having a more positive effect on education than David Blunkett and Tony Blair put together. Just when policies seem to be faltering, and dissent at the grassroots is gathering pace, the cavalry - in the shape of the Chancellor and his mighty billion - gallops over the hill.

The most recent good news on education - primary test results - was months ago. Since then, the disillusioned chorus from the schools has become louder. Overload and bureaucracy are worse than ever - and inevitable in such a closely-monitored system. Trust between teachers and Government seems at an all-time low. The pronouncements of Tony Blair, whose grasp of education issues is seen as tenuous at best, are rarely believed; and David Blunkett lost credibility when it became clear that his spin-doctors were announcing "new" education money several times over.

At least this partly explained why there seemed to be so little sign of the extra spending where it mattered - in schools. According to the chief inspector's annual report, one in five secondary schools does not have the textbooks it needs - and this week OFSTED estimated that one in ten primary schools does not have adequate resources to teac the numeracy strategy (News, page 3).

At the same time, the crisis in teacher recruitment is intensifying, especially in struggling schools. Even relatively successful schools have staff teaching subjects in which they are not qualified.

Ministers' unwillingness to recognise the real problems of failing schools came home to roost when the three "superheads" resigned. And increasing anxiety is being expressed as to whether tests and targets are crushing children's natural creativity and individuality. The threatened closure of Summerhill school after a bad inspectors' report has offered a rallying point for the chattering classes - already alarmed by what they see as increasing uniformity and rule by diktat. Could OFSTED have met its match in the deadly urbanity of Summerhill's barrister Geoffrey Robertson?

A beleaguered and somewhat bewildered David Blunkett has reason to be grateful to the Chancellor, who has not only found the cash (genuine new money, we are assured), but is giving it straight to headteachers. In staffrooms nationwide, teachers will at last feel loved - for a while, anyway. Gordon is their darling now. Maybe they'll vote Labour next year after all.


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