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Winner gets a towering in-tray

WHOEVER takes up the reins at Sanctuary Buildings today faces a tottering in-tray of tricky issues, writes Nic Barnard.

Turning the Green Paper into a government Bill may officially be the priority, but other issues are more pressing and arguably more important.

Chief among them is the need to boost teacher recruitment and retention as vacancies remain at their highest level for a decade.

The introduction of training salaries and golden hellos has started to make an impact on falling recruitment figures, reversing the drop in secondary, postgraduate applications. But how can the new Government build on these early fruits? And what to do about primary, where training recruitment is now in freefall, with applications 11.5 per cent down on last year?

On workload, outgoing Education Secretary David Blunkett set in train a major review of teachers' work patterns, with a group of unions, employers and the Department for Education and Employment given the task of producing a costed programme to ease the burden on the profession.

The new Education Secretary will have to take this tricky process forward, without appearing to roll over and give in to the unions. In particular, they must find a way aound demands for a 35-hour week - and five of the seven unions have conference resolutions on industrial action ready to be invoked if they don't get what they want.

Underpinning all of this is the issue of teacher morale. Again, Mr Blunkett's shadow looms large over his successor. Failure to improve morale is his biggest regret, he repeatedly told conference audiences and interviewers before the election.

The Government's decision to name and shame 18 failing schools within days of coming to office still rankles with teachers. More recently, Alastair Campbell's slighting dismissal of "bog standard comprehensives" has come to symbolise the Government's relationship with the profession.

But raising morale may sit uneasily with an agenda concerned with privatisation, performance pay and prescriptive policies for secondary schools.Then there's the internal housekeeping - reorganising Sanctuary Buildings now that employment is to be hived off to a new Ministry of Work and Family.

With all this on the new minister's plate, the Green Paper could be well down the list of worries.

The slimline DFE is expected to take in culture and possibly sport from a disbanded Department of Culture.

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