The really tricky issues such as fairer funding and admissions are not the stuff of photo-opportunities

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The Independent Online
For Tony Blair and David Blunkett, as for eight million schoolchildren, the summer holidays are over. It's time to head back to work armed with a crop of start-of-term good resolutions. Time for a change. Time to forget those summer-term frivolities and to get down to some serious work.

But will it happen? Why was the sight of Mr Blair, hot off the plane from Italy, and ready to announce a big expansion of the Government's summer school programme, slightly depressing? There is, of course, nothing wrong with summer schools and everyone is hoping that the slow, but not very slow, readers who go there, will reach the standard expected for their age after a couple of weeks' intensive tuition. Nor is there a problem for most people in the idea of a businessman making a pounds 1m donation to the project. Purists would prefer that it was all done through taxes, but realists know that that is not going to happen whichever government is in power.

No. The worrying aspect of the summer school stunt was the implication that ministers have not progressed from their "wheeze a week" phase. Ever since the election, they have been acting as though they were still in a General Election campaign. Announcements have been tumbling out of the Department for Education so rapidly that it has been difficult to keep track of them. The Labour-voting couple who said that they were ticking off manifesto commitments so quickly that they would be through the lot by Christmas would surely, in the case of education, have to amend that to October. Apart from summer schools (twice), we've had sack a teacher in a month, become a teacher in a term (or was it two?), no more nursery vouchers, no more assisted places and an ultimatum to 18 failing schools to succeed within four months.

Teachers and parents are relieved that, unlike previous Labour governments, this one has hit the ground running. Equally, they know that most problems in schools will be solved at a steady walk, not a sprint. The really tricky issues such as fairer funding and fairer admissions are not the stuff of which photo-opportunities are made.

Mr Blair and Mr Blunkett have the chance to show that they mean business in a series of educational summits for experts (the first held yesterday) and in seven regional conferences for local authority representatives of all parties, parents, teachers and governors which will begin in Durham on Monday. The main charge levelled against the last government by teachers was that ministers would not listen. This one has promised to do better. Mr Blunkett says that he will consult and take notice.

So the conferences will be a vital test. Hanging over them is the shadow of another series of conferences held 30 years ago, the last time a Labour government made education its big issue. In 1976, Jim Callaghan, the former Labour prime minister, made his Ruskin speech about the need to tackle low standards. There followed a great debate in which members of the education world were invited to discuss what should be done. And then nothing happened. The discussion petered out and education went off the political agenda for more than a decade.

This time it should be different. The education White Paper promises well. But ministers need to draw breath before they plunge into another round of eye-catching announcements. Critics used to accuse Kenneth Baker, the urbane former secretary of state for education, of being all puff and no pastry. This term, schools would like to see a little more pastryn

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