Hotline to the happiness of teaching

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The Independent Online

Education Editor

After a decade spent berating teachers for their failings, ministers have decided to put a little sunshine into teachers' lives.

Hill and Knowlton, the public relations firm, is to turn its talents from promoting Kellogg's cereals to a pounds 2m campaign to improve teachers' image.

The firm, which also promotes American Express, aims to persuade people that teachers are neither impoverished ignoramuses nor lazy lefties.

Potential teachers can ring their first national hotline to receive advice and reassurance that there is more to life in the classroom than terror tots and textbook shortages.

If they want to know more, they will receive personal advice from experienced teachers.

Despite the biggest government education reforms for half a century, there is no overall shortage of teachers. But the Teacher Training Agency, which is running the campaign, wants to attract better applicants and to recruit more maths and science graduates.

Hill and Knowlton hope to persuade people that there is plenty of snap, crackle and pop in teaching despite the media reports about low salaries and stress. The campaign will emphasise the positive side to teaching. In particular, it will aim to attract high-fliers by showing that it can be a fast-track career with big opportunities in management.

Anthea Millett, the training agency's chief executive, said: "I believe that we have designed a campaign which will have a significant effect on perceptions about teachers and teaching. It will not be a flash in the pan aimed at the short-term gains that can be achieved through advertising."

Teachers and their supporters were scathing. Professor Ted Wragg, director of the school of education at Exeter University, said: "First Kenneth Baker, then Kenneth Clarke, then John Patten torched the profession. Now the Government has called in the fire brigade at the cost of nearly pounds 2m and is demanding a medal."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "If the Government had not spent 16 years denigrating the profession and had instead invested in reducing the stress and workload of teachers, it would not now be handing over this money to a cereal agency. Any school given this amount would use the American Express advertisement slogan: that'll do nicely."

The training agency says it has no fears that the hotline will go the way of the cones hotline. Lines opened last Friday when 90 calls were received. There were 190 inquiries on Monday. The number is 01245 454 454.