The vision emerges;Opinion

1st May 1998 at 01:00
One year on - and it's not turned out quite as many people in education had expected. An air of disappointment - even betrayal - is still palpable in many of the nation's staffrooms.

But is this mood justified? Teachers and educators may have had great expectations, but were they realistic? What exactly did they hope for from the new Government - other than Chris Woodhead's head on a silver platter?

In fact they've got an administration which really has put education at the top of its agenda. They're getting extra money to reduce class sizes, repair and modernise school buildings, buy new books, and link schools up to the Internet. They're getting back-up in the shape of summer schools, after-school clubs, homework guidelines, action on truancy, and - in the primary schools - a literacy strategy which includes extra training and well-received teaching materials. They're even getting a General Teaching Council, with more representation than many people expected.

But the truth is that, for many teachers, the enormous strides which have been made over the past year pale into insignificance beside their phased pay award. Once the Government had strapped itself to Tory spending limits, of course, this disappointment was inevitable - as it was for the nurses. Seen in the context of overall economic policy it makes some sense; it could be argued that had the incoming Government not convinced the money men that it was serious about holding down public sector pay, rising interest rates alone could have wiped out any gains in individual pay packets.

But the root of the problem is that teachers still do not feel appreciated or understood. Their best efforts and their real difficulties alike seem to go unrecognised. "Naming and shaming" exercises have had more impact with the public than "OFSTED Oscars", or advertising campaigns extolling the virtues of the teaching profession.

This is the management problem the Government must solve if their vision of education is to become a reality. Simply berating the workforce is not the way forward; a more sophisticated approach is necessary - but at least there are signs that the second year could bring a more positive mood.

First, morale is bound to rise in schools which benefit directly from the pound;2 billion set aside for repairs and modernisation - such as the 4,000 Victorian schools which still have outside lavatories. Since such funds are only now finding their way into local authorities' budgets, the impact will not be felt in the schools before September at the earliest. Similarly, the first 100,000 pupils - and their teachers - will start to profit from smaller class sizes in the autumn term.

Secondly, teachers will benefit from feeling that society is now more focused on education, and the Government does recognise that the schools cannot do the job of educating the younger generation alone. Parents must pull their weight; summer schools will target the skills of low achievers; truancy and exclusion are seen as the responsibility of the entire community. The boost given to further education by David Blunkett's pound;100m cash injection, the National Year of Reading, the emphasis on lifelong learning, Welfare to Work - all will combine to raise the status of education.

Thirdly, some teachers - battling with an avalanche of paperwork and having been criticised relentlessly for more than a decade - have lost their excitement and their confidence. Over the next year, many will get lively, focused in-service training - especially in more effective methods of teaching literacy and numeracy; suggested lesson plans and the opportunity to swap ideas with other teachers on the Internet; and new books, teaching materials and resources.

With the Education Bill almost with us, a coherent picture is emerging. This time next year, we will see more clearly the shape of the education jigsaw - and whether the piece marked "teachers" has clicked into its rightful place.

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