Teaching role for master of spin

20th February 2004 at 00:00
Prime Minister's former speechwriter has found his vocation as a classroom assistant. Adi Bloom reports.

The government spin doctor who coined the phrase "education, education, education" has adopted it as a mantra for his own life.

Peter Hyman left Downing Street on New Year's Eve to take on a job as a classroom assistant at an inner-city comprehensive, after serving as aide and speechwriter to Tony Blair for nine years. More recently, he had also taken over from Alastair Campbell, as head of the Prime Minister's strategic communications unit.

But Mr Hyman has now exchanged red boxes and policy briefs for whiteboards and detention slips. He recently started work as a classroom assistant at Islington Green, in north London, a 1,000-pupil comprehensive notorious for its challenging intake.

After leaving Number 10, Mr Hyman, 35, visited a number of schools near his home in Haringey, north London. He liked the atmosphere at Islington Green and suggested to its head, Trevor Averre-Beeson, that he could join as a classroom assistant until the end of the school year.

"Having worked on strategy at the centre for nine years, it's really good to see the frontline in action, and to see the challenges faced," he said.

He is already considering a long-term career in teaching. "The more I've been here, the more I have got excited about the possibility of going into teaching. I studied history at university, but now I think my subject might be politics as well.

"There's often talk about how low morale is among the teaching profession.

But it's struck me how positive the teachers are. I've seen really upbeat teachers here. And there have been no political arguments in the staffroom yet."

Islington schools first hit the headlines in 1995, when Tony Blair opted not to educate his son within his home borough. And, in 1997, Islington Green failed its inspection, and was placed in special measures.

But, last year, inspectors found that more than half its teaching was good or better. Twenty-seven per cent of pupils achieved five GCSEs at grades A*-C.

"There's a lot of negative stuff written about Islington schools," said Mr Hyman. "But Islington Green is a dynamic school on its way up. I feel lucky to be in such an exciting and improving place."

Mr Hyman's employment is on a voluntary basis, with only a small allowance to cover expenses. As a classroom assistant, he is responsible for duties such as photocopying, pinning up classroom displays, and working with small groups of pupils.

He dresses for school duties in the same formal suit and tie he wore at Downing Street, but was unwilling to comment on which job made greater demands on the clothes.

Pupils, though, have been less restrained. Mr Hyman has already had to field a number of questions about his former employer. But old spin-doctoring habits die hard, and his pupils have had to content themselves with a few guarded remarks about Tony Blair being a family man with four children.

Mr Hyman has two daughters, both under four, whom he intends to send to local primaries. Before his years at Number 10, he worked briefly for the BBC. He joined New Labour as an adviser to Gordon Brown, later moving across to work for Tony Blair.

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