Leading article: A ray of light for Kelly

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The Independent Online

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, could be forgiven for feeling bruised as the teachers' union conference season draws to an end.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, could be forgiven for feeling bruised as the teachers' union conference season draws to an end. To be labelled the worst secretary of state since 1997 by the president of the National Union of Teachers was not the greatest present for Easter, particularly as it followed a mauling by the Secondary Heads Association who jeered her and accused of patronising them. Her policies also received an almost universal drubbing at the conferences. The decision to ditch the diploma called for by the former chief inspector of schools Sir Mike Tomlinson and keep academic and vocational qualifications separate was condemned. It would usher in a new era of selection at 14, her critics said. The controversial academies programme was also condemned for bringing in a two-tier education system. There were threats of industrial action by all three unions over the Government's workload reforms if heads fail to give teachers their guaranteed 10 per cent of time away from the classroom from September. However, Kelly sided with the teachers by saying they should sue if they don't get time off as a contractual right.

But the true picture for Kelly, who celebrated her 100th day in office on Good Friday, is not quite as bleak as the headlines suggest. She received warm applause at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference where she made her position clear on the workload agreement. Next Thursday she is due to meet Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the NUT (general election permitting), which is the first sign of a thaw in relations between the two since Charles Clarke froze the union out of all negotiations with ministers after it refused to sign the workload agreement. It is true that Kelly has had a shaky start to her career. However, she is showing more signs of developing a rapport with teachers. She is also showing signs of being more robust in defence of her policies against their attacks, in particular over the academies programme. She told ATL the academies were being set up in areas where nothing else had worked and where children needed something done about their education quickly. While we believe there should be a halt to the programme while the success of the first 17 academies is assessed, that does not mean the programme should be stopped at that number. She is right that something needs to be done for children in these deprived areas.

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