'Tis the season to be wooing schools

13th April 2001 at 01:00
Members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers will have had their ears bashed by Tony Blair by the time they read this, but two other classroom teacher unions have David Blunkett or Estelle Morris to look forward to at the annual round of Easter conferences. No doubt the Government's message will be the same: we are doing well, and we will do better.

Remarkably, the opinion polls show that Labour is way ahead of the opposition despite the deluge of disasters including foot-and-mouth, tuberculosis, industrial action over teacher shortages and the threat of more to come on shorter weeks. Even so, the Government is anxious to woo the crucial votes of teachers in the run-up to the postponed election and prevent a united front forming on a 35-hour week.

David Blunkett had a modicum of good news at the end of last week when official figures showed the Government had almost reached its election-pledge target on infant-class sizes. But the Education Secretary could glean little comfort from secondary-school statistics as they revealed a very slight improvement and wide regional differences - or no improvement at all - depending on which paper he read.

Theresa May, the shadow education secretary, who will also be busy at Easter doing the conference rounds, accused the Government f making improvements at primary level at the expense of older pupils. This sentiment was echoed by John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, who said the pupil-teacher ratio of 17.1 per teacher should be nearer to the 9:9 in the independent sector. Now there's an election pledge to die for.

Outside politics and the dire spread of diseases, the week was enlivened by a study presented to the Royal Economics Society's annual conference which proved that the more money you give your children, the less likely they are to get on their bike and find work. This was splendid news for parents keen to engender an entrepreneurial spirit in their teenage offspring.

Teenagers are to be targeted by famous footballers including Manchester United striker Andy Cole and his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, in a new government campaign to fight drug abuse. But Drugscope, a body which researches trends in narcotics, expressed doubts about the value of role models in anti-drugs drives. Health educators have pointed out the risk of significant public figures being involved in drugs, therefore undermining drugs campaigns, said its chief executive.

Quite so, in a week when the latest royal revelations kept us all entertained and obligingly took the heat off politicians.


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