Week in perspective

8th December 2000 at 00:00
This week... A nicer chief inspector?... pound;250,000 for stressed teacher... Queen's speech ignores Section 28...

TEACHERS up and down the country breathed a sigh of relief this week, as Mike Tomlinson replaced Chris Woodhead as chief inspector of schools.

In his first press conference, Mr Tomlinson pledged to continue the Office for Standards in Education's crusade against failure in the school system.

But he distanced himself from the approach of his predecessor. He praised the "hard work and dedication of teachers" which had cut the number of unsatisfactory lessons and promised that he would not comment on matters outside OFSTED's remit. Mr Tomlinson said "I am not Chris Woodhead, and I shall handle matters in my own way."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, welcomed the start of Mr Tomlinson's tenure as OFSTED chief and urged him to call for a review of the inspection regime. "I look forward to working with him to ensure that school inspection becomes a process which is recognised as valuable, not feared," he said.

Ministers will hope that the presence of a friendlier face at the top of the inspectorate for at least a year will

help improve the image of teaching

and attract more trainees.

The Department for Education and Employment has set up a special unit in an attempt to prevent staff shortages forcing schools onto a four-day week.

Already this term, three schools have had to send their pupils home for a day each week, although after Government intervention all three have now resumed normal timetables.

More money will also be made

available through the Teacher Training Agency to increase the number of recruitment managers to tackle

staffing in areas with severe problems.

Classroom stress, which according to the unions is one of the main factors behind the recruitment crisis, also hit the headlines this week. A former teacher who was forced to retire after two nervous breakdowns was awarded a record pound;250,000 in compensation.

Janice Howell suffered her first breakdown after being expected to deal unaided with 11 pupils with learning or behavioural difficulties at Maindee junior school in Gwent. Newport borough council admitted liability for her "intolerable" working conditions.

In an alternative "Queen's Speech" the Liberal Democrats called for a reduction in teachers' workloads. However, party leader Charles Kennedy indicated that he could be ready to drop the pledge to put a penny in income tax to pay for increased school spending.

Meanwhile, Tories announced that they will match Labour's spending plans on education if they win the next election - despite having promised

pound;8 billion worth of tax cuts.

The real Queen's Speech included a bill to "improve the framework for meeting special educational needs and access to learning for disabled people". It also included measures to raise literacy and numeracy standards in secondary schools and improve adult literacy.

One striking omission, however, is legislation to abolish Section 28, which bans councils from promoting homosexuality. Labour is now expected to bring new legislation to remove the controversial clause if it wins the general election.

The Oratory school in London, which is attended by two of Tony Blair's sons, was also in the news. Police are investigating allegations that Father David Martin, a former chaplain and governor at the school, abused pupils. Father Martin died of a suspected Aids-related illness two years ago.

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