Education Diary: Confusion over flagship diplomas

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The Independent Online

Last week, education journalists were all agog. They were getting details of the first private schools to offer the Government's flagship diplomas – a big deal in the education world. But soon after the list was sent to journalists, there followed an urgent message from the Department for Curtains and Soft Furnishings (Children, Schools and Families) press office to remove a couple of schools from the list.

Then, finally, we got a second message withdrawing the list altogether. On closer inspection, we found that the original list contained two prep schools. So, was the whole list a mistake, or just some of it? And will we ever get another list, or have ministers completely failed to win over the independent sector to their reforms?

The disappearing list came at the end of a bad hair day for the spin wizards at the Department. Earlier, the Schools Minister Jim Knight – in a briefing with journalists – had spoken of a maths class he had seen at Thomas Telford school in Shropshire, which regularly tops the league tables. Seventy pupils were being taught by one teacher, with three other adults helping out, he said, a fact that he repeated on BBC Radio 4.

His point followed an attempt by a questioner at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference to get him to condemn a primary-school class with 38 pupils. Larger classes were manageable if the teacher had the support of classroom assistants, he said. His comments, however, led to so much controversy that the Department had to put out a statement saying that all the adults in this by-now-famous Telford classroom were teachers. Were they really all teachers, we asked the DCSF press office, because that did not tally with what Jim Knight said. Oh, came the reply, Jim doesn't know whether they were all teachers or not.

Is this the standard of accuracy we should expect from a government? Or even the standard of accuracy it expects from us? Well, it's all we or you are getting.

On to the National Union of Teachers conference in Manchester, and a row over the union's logo. Delegates were in militant mood, voting to strike over pay and class sizes. Surely, one delegate said to Steve Sinnott (right), the general secretary, it's time to get rid of the "flaccid fish finger" (as it was described to delegates) introduced in the 1980s to replace the brightly burning torch that had represented the union previously. (Historians take note: the "flaccid fish finger" was introduced to give the union a softer image after a period of militancy...)

Watch this space, but not too closely because Sinnott hinted that it just might not be his top priority over the next few weeks.

Life is rosy in the classroom at the moment, according to the Training and Development Agency for Schools, the body responsible for teacher recruitment. So rosy, in fact, that it has written to teachers who have retired for reasons of ill-health or stress, to say how happy they would be if they returned to teaching. Pay is better and there are more assistants, so you don't have to take work home with you. The contents of the letter were revealed at the NUT conference where delegates had just voted to strike over pay and class size, and where it was revealed that more and more teachers were having to deal with gun and knife-toting pupils. "I won't be going back," said John Illingworth, former president of the NUT and a recipient of one of the letters.