Trouble at the top

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
IN the week before the Labour Party Conference, we see the Government in unusual disarray. It seems Blair's boys, through their reliance on London based advisers and the mass media (ie metropolitan journalists), had simply not understood the anger that was building up across the country against an arrogant, out-of-touch Government.

Many people, whatever their views on tax and fuel, supported the blockades because they gave Blair a bloody nose. Teachers, stung by the Prime Minister's recent ill-considered comments about comprehensives, were no exception.

Even more worrying is the spectacle of a Government which seems unable to agree on fuel, not only because of the complexity of the issues but because the Prime Minister and the Chancellor seem not to trust each other's judgment.

Similarly, it appears that ministers have disagreed in putting together the Green Paper on education funding. John Prescott remains wedded to the idea of local democracy, while David Blunkett wants to reduce LEA power over school funding. Yet when Blair and Blunkett clash, the Education Secretary normally seems pro-LEA in comparison with the Prime Minister who, perhaps ifluenced by John McIntosh, his sons' headteacher, seems keen to sideline or even abolish local authorities' education role.

The result of such conflict is an indecisive document which is surprisingly like a traditional Green Paper. It sets out and explains options with a genuine air of consultation, rather than laying down definitive policy. The overall emphasis on transparency is welcome, but many - especially those who believe reform is urgent - will find this paper unsatisfying.

Headteachers, believing they were promised far-reaching changes, are fuming. LEAs are breathing a sigh of relief. Since this is a Green Paper from the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, not the DFEE, education is located firmly in the context of other local services - a novel approach these days.

So, there is still everything to play for before the close of the consultation period on December 8. And if Tony Blair wants to make a barnstorming conference attack on teachers, he should take notice of this week's survey carried out by the General Teaching Council: nearly four out of five adults believe the profession deserves greater respect.

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