Chalk Talk: Schools Minister runs the gauntlet at conference

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The Independent Online

With Michael Gove taking a break (aside from going on Newsnight to launch radical changes to A-levels), it was down to Schools Minister Nick Gibb to don the flak jacket for the Easter conference season. In actual fact, he coped quite well, coming to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference to praise teachers, not bury them.

It was only when he opened himself up to questions that things went a little bit awry. There was great mirth over his response that new chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw had dropped the phrase "satisfactory" as a grading for schools because it was too confusing for parents.

There was also a bit of scoffing as he said of the Ofsted site where parents can rate schools: "You can't just go on there and say anything." "Yes you can," came the response.

For the record, you can only respond to set questions, but you can reply with what you like.

Apart from that address, though, there was no ministerial presence at the conferences this year – the National Union of Teachers doesn't invite politicians and no-one turned up at the NASUWT gathering. Perhaps memories of withering right of replies from its general secretary Chris Keates are indelibly imprinted on ministerial mindsets.

Nick Gibb looked as if he feared the worst as Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, approached the rostrum for her reply to her speech. "Shall I stand here and take it?" he asked. In actual fact, it was not overtly critical – recognising both she and the Schools Minister had a passion for education even though they sometimes disagreed.

But there was enough bonhomie in the air, hopefully, to ensure a return next year. It would be sad if there was no contact over Easter between those that run the system and those who teach in it.