Teachers enter realm of knighthoods

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The Independent Online
An honours list revolution is being promised by Tony Blair, with top-class teachers being awarded knighthoods for services to education.

In two wide-ranging tabloid interviews, with The Mirror and The Sun, the Prime Minister lashes out at the Tories for deliberately ducking out of action on interest rates, allowing inflationary pressures to build up in the economy - leaving Labour a legacy full of pent-up pressures.

Mr Blair also guns for Tony Benn and Roy Hattersley for their weekend sniping against his leadership of the party, saying that they helped to run the party onto the rocks in the early Eighties.

Underlining the fickle nature of politics and, perhaps, explaining his attraction to greater co-operation between the parties, he says repeatedly that what the voters can give, they can also snatch back again.

But the most eye-catching point was the Prime Minister's idea that the most distinguished teachers should be given public recognition. After years of bashing from the likes of Margaret Thatcher, teachers appear set for rehabilitation - with an increase in professional respect from public, parents and pupils.

"We need to give the teaching profession a new deal. We are not going to tolerate bad teachers and headmasters ... But where they are good, why don't we use the honours system to reward headteachers? If someone does a great job, takes over a poor school and turns it round, why shouldn't they have a knighthood?" he said.

The first opportunity Mr Blair will have to offer the new awards will come with the New Year's Honours list next January, and it will mark a distinct change from the class-ridden system under which the most teachers could hope for was a humble MBE - well down the ranks from the grand KBE.

Mr Blair also offers an insight into the iron discipline that has been imposed on his party since he became leader. He says of his predecessor John Major: "He was in the end basically crucified by his party, and that should be a lesson to us all.

"And the lesson is that if you want to govern this country you shouldn't spend your time back-biting and in-fighting but should get on with actually doing things to improve the country, or the country will turn around and say,'Thanks and goodbye'."

As for the old-guard critics, such as Mr Benn and Mr Hattersley, he says dismissively: "People like them were in charge of the party for almost 20 years while we were losing general elections. The Labour Party of the early Eighties has largely gone - and a good thing, too ... It was dying on its feet and we had to bring it back in touch."

The Prime Minister says that the most touching and moving moments of his first 100 days in office both came from Northern Ireland: meeting ordinary children "with a terrible burden of history on them"; and learning of the murder of the two policemen in Lurgan.

It had been essential to provide early hope of progress, he said, otherwise it could have headed into disaster. "That's why I felt I had to start moving things on so quickly."