The fact that Gordon Brown promised to give education top billing in his comprehensive spending review should bring a sigh of relief to those worried that the Government had forgotten its three top priorities were "education, education and education".
The list of items in the education service that require more money for improvement is becoming longer by the day. Top of the list has to be modernising the teaching profession and striking a deal with the unions to reduce their workload. Money for Tony Blair's much vaunted review of student finance is another priority – if only because the Prime Minister made it a priority last autumn.
It is known, too, that Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, regards the £87m earmarked in the Budget to tackle poor behaviour as simply a down payment, having asked for further cash. She is forging ahead feverishly with spending the £87m, hosting what is being billed as a "behaviour summit" at the Department for Education and Skills today to garner more ideas for how to target the money.
All of these initiatives are welcome. However, another priority has emerged during the past week that needs tackling urgently – the growing crisis in the examinations system. A poll of teachers last Friday showed that 31 per cent of secondary and more than 40 per cent of primary teachers are no longer confident with exam and test marking standards. Then the troubled Edexcel exam board revealed that it was hiring trainee teachers to mark history GCSE papers this summer. It is unlikely that anything will go wrong with the Edexcel experiment because the checks and balances are so stringent. But whether trainee teachers should be marking exam papers at such an early stage in their careers – when they have only just stopped taking public exams themselves and when there is so much else for them to get to grips with – is debatable.
The answer to sorting out the very real problem of finding enough markers to cope with the GCSE, A and AS level mountain may well lie with the Chancellor. How about it Mr Brown: more money for the arduous but vital job of examining to make it more rewarding to classroom teachers?