Honours reform means more egalitarian gongs

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People in a range of professions serving the community will be rewarded with knighthoods under Tony Blair's plans to reform of the honours system.

Following the Prime Minister's announcement that head teachers who turn around problem schools will be made Sirs and Dames, Downing Street revealed the same principle would be extended to a number of other fields.

Nurses, social workers, and the police are among those expected to benefit from the Government's determination to make the awarding of honours more egalitarian.

Mr Blair is believed to want to close the perceived "social gap" between them and other professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, who have traditionally picked up a large number of knighthoods in the past

Teachers were the first to be mentioned by the Prime Minister in this context. He said: "If someone does a great job, takes over a poor school and turns it around, why shouldn't they have a knighthood?

"There has to be a recasting of the jobs we need as a country for the 21st century. We are not going to tolerate bad teachers and headmasters who fall down on the job. But where they are good, why don't we use the system to reward headmasters?"

A Downing Street spokes-man said: "Using the honours system for reward would not be limited to just teaching, and this is being actively considered. It would be used in a number of professions to recognise people who may not have been fully recognised in the past".

The spokesman added that the Government did not want to "draw rigid boundaries around these professions" but agreed that nursing, social work, and the police would all be considered.

Knighthoods would normally go to people towards the top of their profession, with other honours being awarded to people lower in the hierarchy. However, this would be flexible, and under "particularly exceptional circumstances" they too could be made Sirs or Dames, according to the spokesman.

The move was welcomed by the professions involved. Robbi Robson, assistant director for nursing policy at the Royal College of Nursing, said: "There are many nurse leaders at the forefront of developing new ways of caring for patients. They have a special role to play in motivating their teams and acting as role models for nurses of the future.

"This will be an excellent way of recognising the major contribution they make, although most would be Dames rather than Knights".

Dave Burchell, assistant director of the British Association of Social Workers, said: "We would like workers at the ground level as well as those at the top to benefit from this, as these are the people who have to achieve targets set by their managers. It may also be difficult to ascertain the `success' of people in our field. But, overall, we would welcome such an initiative".

A spokesman for the Police Federation said: "We have had PCs who were Knights, but these were hereditary titles. This is an encouraging move and our members would appreciate the recognition."