Blunkett gets tough with the militants

DAVID Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, yesterday confronted heckling teachers and told them bluntly to stop shouting and join the Government's standards campaign.

In a tough speech to the National Union of Teachers, the biggest teachers' union, he dismissed left-wing delegates as a "minority of a minority". He appealed to all teachers to stop seeing themselves as victims and to be partners in improving children's life chances.

Ignoring the shouted protests of delegates at the conference in Blackpool, Mr Blunkett set out a long list of the Government's achievements in education over the last 11 months, including a promise to spend more than pounds 2bn to improve buildings and raise standards.

Raising his voice, Mr Blunkett said defiantly: "Shouting won't make a difference. All you do is put off decent people who want to go into the teaching profession. The comfort is you are a very tiny minority."

There were cries of "Not enough", as Mr Blunkett detailed the Government's achievements and the extra money promised for education, including pounds 1.3bn to repair school buildings. Some delegates sneered when he played a video explaining how the Government intended to reduce teachers' workload by providing off-the-peg lesson plans and examples of good practice on the national grid for learning.

Members of both of the biggest teachers unions - the NUT and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers - have voted for action, not including strikes, over the growing burden of paperwork in schools.

Mr Blunkett, who announced a series of proposals to reduce school red tape, warned teachers against taking industrial action over workloads: "Industrial action is not acceptable because it is bound to affect our standards agenda." He insisted that teachers must hold their heads up and urged them to believe in themselves.

At a briefing later, he admitted: "There is still some way to go to translate good intentions into good practice. That is partly because of this victim syndrome. People do think they are very hard done by - that makes it very difficult to relate to them even when you are make positive moves."

He made it clear that the Government's daily literacy hour and education action zones to raise standards in deprived areas were non-negotiable, despite the conference's opposition to them.

Mr Blunkett told the conference that they would not put up for a second with standards for their children which some people seem prepared to put up with for other people's children. He said: "You can be part of a real learning age when inequality and injustice can be set aside because at last we have given children real life chances."

The Government had not been able to wave a magic wand as many people would have liked but it had found an extra pounds 835m to save the education service, he said.

Despite some heckling, Mr Blunkett's reception was much better than that he received three years ago when he was jostled by left-wing delegates. Moderate teachers applauded him warmly.

Doug McAvoy, the union's general secretary, said that the Government's credit balance was fairly impressive but he won a standing ovation from left-wing delegates when he said it was unfair to name and shame failing schools.

Mr McAvoy said that the union's action over workload would go ahead before the end of the month, but he hoped it would be limited while he continued to press the Government for more concessions.

Will Reese of Coventry, a member of the Socialist Teachers Alliance, questioned Mr Blunkett's assertion that the Government was not a threat to teachers. "There remains a persistent thread of criticism about teachers. It almost seems as if they are being singled out."

Leading article, page 16

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