Blunkett praises his own work

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The Independent Online
TEACHERS IN England have been sent a back-to-school message from David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, thanking them for their help and outlining the Government's achievements.

But heads and teachers said yesterday that the jury was still out on the effect of the reforms introduced since the Government took office.

And they warned that higher salaries for teachers and more money for schools, not a succession of headline- grabbing initiatives, were the key to raising standards. The Conservatives said the letter was "an expensive gimmick".

The Department for Education said originally that a letter was being sent to every teacher, but later admitted that letters had gone to head teachers with a request that the message be passed on.

Schools face a series of changes this academic year. They include testing for all five-year-olds, a "literacy hour" to improve reading and education action zones to raise standards in underachieving schools. A new teacher- training curriculum for primary teachers is also in place and next week sees the start of the National Year of Reading.

Mr Blunkett, who announced a further pounds 560m over three years, to reduce infant class sizes, says that there are 100,000 fewer infants in classes of under 30 this term. Overall, he says, the Government is spending an extra 5.1 per cent on education in real terms over the next three years.

He looks forward to the publication of a Green Paper on the profession later this year. "This will recognise the vital role of teachers and offer an historic opportunity to put an end to 20 years of drift and declining morale. It will set out our vision of a profession equipped to meet the demands of the 21st century and ready to reclaim its rightful status in society."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We have seen more initiatives under this Government in the last year-and-a-half than we did under the previous government in 19 years.

"I have no doubt that they have a part to play, but the bottom line is, `Have we got teachers of the right quality in the classroom and heads with the right leadership skills?' "

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "In terms of the feel-good factor, a personal letter from the Secretary of State is helpful, but you still have to feel that the extra money is actually getting into your classroom. That isn't the case in all schools."

Damian Green, Tory education spokesman, said: "This is another example of the money-wasting tendencies of the Government's army of spin doctors."