Winners and losers in the spinning game

19th December 2003 at 00:00
The year 2003 started with Charles Clarke battling to sell his plans for university top-up fees. It ended in much the same manner. But Labour backbenchers weren't the only Bolshies bugging the Bruiser this year. Mr Clarke spent Easter with his family rather than face the traditional National Union of Teachers walkout, which delegates now prefer to trapping ministers in cupboards, as a welcome to their guests. Had he turned up, their plan to boycott national tests might have led Mr Clarke to employ his son Christopher's eloquence. Christopher Clarke was suspended in March for subjecting his school caretaker to inappropriate language.

Nevertheless the NUT wins our Best Union Spinner award for convincing newspapers in January to turn the workload agreement, which cut teachers' working hours, into a story about the wicked government creating "classes of 60" in schools. By the same token, the Worst Government Spinner goes to the Department for Education and Skills official who recently sent union bosses a paper suggesting that schools might get by with just one qualified teacher in the future.

The August heat always generates award winners. And we again turn to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority for our Worst Whitehall Spinner.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's boss Dr Ken Boston told The Times that children could skip GCSEs if they thought them a waste of time - days before thousands of youngsters got their results. Within weeks, a new agency had been announced to take responsibility for the exams.

Worst Union Spinner goes to Dr John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, for fuelling this year's "dumbing down" panic by warning that "we are producing a nation of psychologists", after students in his members' schools increasingly opted for psychology A-levels.

The Best Government Spinner goes to president of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, Terry Bladen, who took to the airwaves to downplay the schools funding crisis and whose delegates "almost purred" when Charles Clarke addressed them.

There are two new awards this year. Most Cheerful Conservative is Damian Green, the former shadow education secretary, who urged fellow Tories to "smile - we're the happy party". His exhortation was quickly followed by his rapid demotion under Michael Howard to a middle-ranking transport post, while macho Tim Yeo, took on health and education.

And there was stiff competition for the new I Can't Believe She Really Did That award. It jointly goes to children's minister Margaret Hodge and left-wing Labour MP Diane Abbott. Mrs Hodge sent a missive to BBC bosses casting doubt on the sanity of one of her chief critics, Demetrious Panton, who had been abused in Islington's care. She had to apologise and pay damages. And Ms Abbott sent her son James to the selective pound;10,000-a-year City of London school for boys after years of criticising colleagues who didn't send their kids to the local comp.

But the 2003 Spinner of the Year title goes to chief inspector of schools David Bell, after his attacks on literacy and numeracy teachers and the Government's inner-city policies. Chris Woodhead would be proud of him.

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