FOR ministers under the cloud of the fuel crisis this week's test results for 11-year-olds provided a silver lining.
The number of pupils reaching the expected level increased by 3 per cent to 72 percent in maths and by 4 per cent to 75 per cent in English. The results mean that the Government is comfortably on course to reach its targets of 80 per cent of pupils reaching level 4 English and 75 per cent in maths by 2002.
Education Secretary David Blunkett claimed the results showed the literacy and numeracy strategies were working and paid tribute to the hard work of primary school teachers.
However, it was a rare piece of good news for Labour this week. Around 200 schools were forced to close on Monday in the aftermath of the blockade of oil refineries by farmers and truckers. Thousands more pupils and teachers struggled to make it to school. And the political backlash saw the Conservatives overtake Labour in the polls for the first time since 1992.
The Government's general malaise spread to the launch of the long awaited Green Paper on council funding. Ministers' intended message that they will force councils to pass more money to schools was partly overshadowed by reports of a row between Mr Blunkett and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.
It centred on whether money given to local authorities for education should be 'ring-fenced' for schools. Mr Blunkett is said to have been in favour but cabinet colleagues - including Mr Prescott and the Home Secretary Jack Straw - objected because they feared it would see the Government take the blame for any funding problems in schools. Instead, Whitehall will say what it expects local authorities to give to scools, and allow them to keep items such as school transport and special needs.
Ministers will be hoping that they can revive their fortunes at their party conference next week. However, there was no comfort on offer as the Liberal Democrats met in Bournemouth. Education spokesman Phil Willis accused Labour of failing to revive schools after 18 years of demoralising Tory rule - allowing class sizes to rise and teacher morale to fall. "What began as 'education, education, education' has become control, centralisation and privatisation," he said.
While the Government struggled, teachers received a timely boost. A poll for the General Teaching Council to mark the the transfer of powers from Whitehall found that almost eight out of ten people believe teachers deserve more respect and believe teachers generally "do a good job".
Teachers will be hoping that these results are translated into better pay for classroom teachers as well as heads. Michael Murphy, who will be the first pound;90,000 headteacher when he takes over Crown Woods school in Greenwich this week defended his new salary. Mr Murphy is credited with turning around Hurlingham and Chelsea comprehensive in south-west London.
Professor John Howson, a teacher recruitment expert, said the pound;100,000 barrier would be broken next year.
Some private-sector heads already earn such salaries, but a survey shows that the sector's image as a bastion of privilege is false. The survey of 8,573 pupils for the Independent Schools Information Service shows almost half of private school pupils come from families where neither parent was educated privately. A third come from homes with no university tradition.