Chalk talk: Brilliant teachers wanted – but anyone will do

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The Independent Online

The teaching awards – the "Oscars" of the teaching profession – will be upon us again later this month. It's when teachers take centre stage as celebrities in their own right, and declare from the stage of a famous London theatre: "This has been a team effort." A timely reminder, then, in a new book co-authored by John Bangs, former head of education at the National Union of Teachers, that the whole thing nearly did not get off the ground.

Initially, David Blunkett, the then education secretary, said the awards could only go ahead if there were 1,000 nominations for them. David (Lord) Puttnam, who took charge of the awards, managed to beat him down to 800. However, the night before the deadline expired he counted only 796 applications.

Fortunately, he and the then chief executive of the awards, Caroline Taylor, could remember eight teachers they knew and nominated them, and thus the awards were given the green light. "Luckily," Lord Puttnam recalls, "none of them won."

* The same book shows how officials nearly drove a spin doctor mad. Labour had legislated to outlaw classes of more than 30 for five-year-olds, so imagine the look of horror on the face of Conor Ryan, David Blunkett's special adviser, when officials presented him with statistics showing there were still many classes with more than 40 pupils.

Actually, it wasn't horror, really. Ryan was convinced they were wrong and asked them to recheck the figures.

"Sheepishly, they came back a few days later and said, well actually, it seems that, at schools on the day of the census, there were a few classes sitting together watching a movie, or having an assembly, and these were counted in the data," he recalls. Having an assembly? He's lucky he wasn't faced with having to defend class sizes of 110 to the media.

* So farewell then to Isabel Nisbet, chief executive of Ofqual. Not many public body heads seem to have either survived the arrival of the Coalition Government or wanted to serve it. Ms Nisbet will be taking on the role of senior education adviser for the Asia Pacific region at the University of Cambridge International Examinations board, and will be based in Asia. Sorry, Isabel, but it doesn't quite have the ring of a massive professional advancement about it. Maybe, however, it's all a question of location, location, location.

Her departure follows those of former Ofqual chair Kathleen Tattersall, and the former head of the soon-to-be defunct Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority, Andrew Hall, who quit to head the biggest exam board, the Assessment and Qualification Alliance, before the election result was known.

And then there is the anticipated departure next year of Christine Gilbert as head of Ofsted, the education standards watchdog. Will the last public servant to leave please turn out the lights?