Warm response for the Morris and Barber show

29th September 2000 at 01:00
TO THE cynical, it was always going to seem like something of a pre-election gimmick.

Complete with smooth Aussie compere and gameshow-style hand-held zappers to register the concerns of heads, the Government last week took to the road to persuade teachers of the merits of its education policy .

But if the 500 heads who attended the Birmingham event on Thursday were anything to go by, the gesture was appreciated.

By the week's end, the "roadshow" team of Estelle Morris, school standards minister and Michael Barber, head of the standards and effectiveness unit, plus a host of speakers, had met up to 10 per cent of the country's heads.

At each of the "Learning From Success" conferences - in London, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham and Newcastle - the delegates were invited to share their experiences, learn from colleagues working overseas and hear how Government policy is intended to hang together.

However, although fun to play with, the hi-tech system that allowed heads to provide instant answers to on-screen questions was largely a waste of time.

Few teachers, for example, were going to answer "no" to the questions: "For you, has working in education been more or less hallenging in the last few years?" or "Do you believe your school has improved in the last few years?"

But any potentially awkward questions from the floor, such as: "When are you going to get Chris Woodhead off our backs?" were diverted with the response "we'll come back to that later" and then conveniently forgotten.

But if there had been clapometers to grade applause, they would have registered high readings.

A rendition of Wagner's First Fanfare by a local youth music group and an announcement by Estelle Morris that heads will no longer have to bid for Standard Fund money was greeted warmly. But the loudest applause was for David Puttnam, chair of the new General Teaching Council, who made a rousing call for teachers to embrace the future with "vision, courage and creativity".

Few heads came away from the day feeling they had learnt anything new. But many appeared to have had their spirits lifted and felt that they had been heard.

As Peter Thorpe, head of St Teresa's RC primary, Stoke-on-Trent, put it: "It was very much the Government's agenda. But the big thing was that they were talking to us in an everyday way and made us feel appreciated."

Opinion, 17

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