Things have got better

1st May 1998 at 01:00
After 12 months of Labour government, what is the education world's verdict? Francis Gilbert takes soundings

EXACTLY a year after Labour swept into power with the battle-cry of "Education, education, education", what have been the results? The TES looks at views across the education spectrum from union leaders to heads : Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers: "Labour has a very impressive balance sheet indeed. There is much on the credit side: the abolition of assisted places, the commitment to reduction in class sizes, involving teachers more in decision making, the changes in the primary national curriculum, the extra money for school buildings, the abolition of vouchers and the expansion of nursery places.

"There were aspects which we weren't happy with, though: in particular, the naming and shaming of schools, the phasing out of the teachers' pay award, and too much emphasis on the sound-bite approach to education."

Professor Ted Wragg, Exeter University School of Education: "Nine out of 10. More money for smaller classes, books and buildings were all most welcome.

"However, it's not 10 out of 10 because it's wrong to make teachers teach from the same framework regarding the literacy and numeracy hours. There shouldn't be a universal prescription for teaching these subjects. The demands which the Government has laid down for teacher training are also far too prescriptive. It's asking our teachers to be technicians, not professionals. It didn't work in the 19th century and it won't work now."

Norma Redfern, headteacher of West Walker primary school, Newcastle: "I was delighted that there was a definite commitment to having classes of fewer than 30 for five to seven-year-olds, although it would be much appreciated if there was a similar commitment for reducing classes for seven to 11-year-olds. I'm also pleased that they are looking at cutting bureaucracy.

"I'm excited that children from poorer backgrounds might be helped by the new social exclusion unit. How can a child who hasn't had any breakfast and has come to school fresh from a family row be expected to learn properly?" Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers: "We've got mixed views. They're better than the Tories would have been, but our expectations of the Tories were rock bottom.

"Their initiatives, although most are welcome, have brought a greater workload to teachers and more bureaucracy. We remain concerned about education action zones and the Government's possible plans for disapplying the pay rates in them."

William Atkinson, headteacher of Phoenix high school, Hammersmith, London:

"Overall, I'd give them a B grade. They've shown a considerable commitment to working with teachers in the crusade to improve standards.

"I was very disappointed with the phasing of the teachers' pay award because recruitment is a very important issue. We need to retain and attract well-qualified, enthusiastic teachers who thrive in the more challenging schools. This will not happen unless there are the proper financial incentives."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers:

"I think the Government has achieved a great deal in a short period of time. But they've got a long way to go if they're going to satisfy headteachers between now and the next election over the key areas of pay and allocation of resources.

"My significant reservations are this government's tendency to overload schools with new initiatives and be over-prescriptive."

David Woodhead, national director of the Independent Schools Information Service: "Paradoxically, the independent sector is reassured at the end of Labour's first year in office, despite the abolition of the assisted places scheme. We are also concerned about the powers which will enable the Government to restrict local place-buying in the independent sector. We welcome a Labour's approach to the independent sector based on partnership and friendly dialogue rather than old Labour hostility."

Stephen Dorrell, shadow education secretary: "It's been a year of disappointment. Most importantly, the Government was misleading when it said that it was allocating an extra pound;800 million towards school resources. This didn't happen. They were pound;300m short and only pound;500m came through.

"They've also undermined the establishment of good schools, such as grant-maintained and grammar schools, with their new legislation which will enhance the power of the LEAs in the running of these schools.

"However, we are instinctively in favour of the proposed education action zones."

Yusuf Islam, chair of governors at Islamia primary school, Brent, London:

"I definitely think that this government is more people-minded than the last one."

Graham Hardy, headteacher of Calthorpe special school, Birmingham: "One of the major problems is the huge amount of paperwork which I receive. Recently I've been inundated with new initiatives which are inappropriate for this school.

"I'm also worried that David Blunkett seems to have the view that all children can be integrated into mainstream schools. An enormous injection of cash would be needed if there was going to be total inclusion."

THEIR FIRST YEAR:

* Abolition of the assisted places scheme.

* Each of England's 650,000 four-year-olds guaranteed a free early-years place from September.

* pound;1 billion extra for school budgets.

* pound;2bn for school repairs, plus pound;35m to replace outside toilets, to be spent over the next year.

* No infant class to be more than 30-strong: 100,000 children are to benefit from this September. pound;22m- pound;100m more expected.

* Tough new numeracy and literacy targets. An extra pound;59m was allocated to improving literacy, summer schools were established and a national framework was published to give children a good grounding in English.

* Education action zones: 25 to be operational by January 1999, with first "superteachers".

* 18 schools "named and shamed" in first month in office.

* LEAs' role changed: education development plans are to be introduced with mechanisms to tackle underperformance.

* Homework guidelines.

* Government consent required for sales of school playing fields.

* Schools given pound;1,000 to spend on books.

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