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Year 2001 No. 27, February 13, 2001 Archive Search Home Page

Tony Blair on the "Post-Comprehensive Era"

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Tony Blair on the "Post-Comprehensive Era"

Financial Incentives to Tackle Teacher Shortages

Call Centre Workers Earn £8,000 Less than Average Pay

Protesters Blockade Faslane Base

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Tony Blair on the "Post-Comprehensive Era"

Tony Blair yesterday outlined a four-point plan for dealing with the crisis in education by taking secondary schools into the "post-comprehensive era". He was forced to acknowledge the pressures the teachers face in the situation of the "profound change in our society and economy". The speech was given in the context of New Labour’s communitarianism of "a society of opportunity for all, matched by responsibility from all". According to Tony Blair, "Our teachers and schools are indispensable to making this vision a reality, working with parents and all others with a stake in our communities."

Speaking to a Downing Street Conference of School Leaders attended by headteachers and other leading educationalists on the day of the launch of a Green Paper detailing the government's five-year campaign to deal with the crisis in secondary school standards, Tony Blair said diversity "must become the norm, not the exception".

Tony Blair said that the past four years had seen a "step change" in primary school standards, and the government's ambition now was to bring about a similar improvement at secondary level. As part of that, the government would change the law to enable businesses and voluntary sector groups to take over the running of weak state schools, he pledged, and this is to be strongly encouraged.

The best schools had a "strong sense of individual character and community responsibility" and were run by heads who acted as accountable "chief executives", Tony Blair said. "In all these respects, our best schools have moved decisively to a post-comprehensive argument. They take inclusion and equality of opportunity for granted but are highly flexible in the ways they meet them. They are not afraid to be different or distinct. They offer greater diversity and choice."

The second part of the modernisation plan involved a "standards drive" of literacy and numeracy strategies for 11 to 14-year-olds, Tony Blair said.

The third meant expanding vocational education at GCSE level through the introduction of vocational GCSEs and a more flexible national curriculum.

The fourth part of the "strategy" involved extending the autonomy of successful schools by cutting red tape and giving heads more managerial freedom provided they could show success.

According to the Tony Blair, New Labour has laid the foundations in primary education, and now the issue is to go further and transform secondary education. It is presented in the guise of bringing about excellence in schools and raising standards. In doing so, the government’s strategy is to chart another "Third Way" between the comprehensive style of education of the Old Left and the policy of strict selection and streaming of the New Right. This strategy goes hand in hand with the policy of "vocational" training and the emphasis on "literacy and numeracy". This is short-hand for training school children to meet the needs of business, while special and diverse schools are needed in order to cater for the creation of an educational elite, which can go on to the "premier league" of universities, and who are committed to maintaining the system as it is. The teachers who are so hard-pressed with their pressures and responsibilities are to play their special role in all this, to enter into "partnership" with the government to bring about the transformation of schools "so that each young person gains the skills they need for the knowledge economy, and the foundation in values and individual responsibility they need to be effective citizens".

The direction that the government is taking education is consistent with the reactionary direction of society where citizenship values are imposed, state and people are united around the success of business, and teachers together with the rest of the community are made totally subordinate to this aim for society and instead of throwing themselves into the movement for political renewal are to work for a partnership of government and community in the international context of globalisation and the knowledge-based economy. The reality is that New Labour’s strategy for "post-comprehensive" education is not designed to rescue education from its crisis and is not even realisable as such, but will contribute to blocking the road to the progress of society even more.

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Financial Incentives to Tackle Teacher Shortages

Education Secretary David Blunkett detailed the government’s five-year plan for secondary education in its Green Paper in the House of Commons yesterday.

The package includes a range of financial incentives designed to attract more undergraduates into teaching.

David Blunkett said that it is designed to modernise the system while encouraging diversity, the tailoring of education to the needs of individual children, and schools playing a broader role in their communities.

In a bid to tackle teacher shortages, one initiative will involve graduate recruits in shortage subjects such as maths, science, modern languages, technology and English having their student loans written off by the government.

And a "golden handcuffs" deal could see a typical student save around £10,000 over 10 years, provided they stay in teaching.

Another initiative would allow undergraduates to take most teacher-training modules during their primary degree. Undergraduates would be paid up to £2,000 to train during their three-month summer holidays.

The move was welcomed broadly by the National Association of Head Teachers. But David Hart, the association's general secretary, argued the financial incentive should be offered to every newly-qualified teacher. He said, "We welcome any plan to pay off student loans but it is necessary to extend it beyond just maths and science teachers, so that any young graduate who wants to go into teaching can be free of student debt."

NASUWT general secretary Nigel de Gruchy said he welcomed the measure too, but added: "It does smack of panic and it proves that NASUWT was right in describing the present situation over teacher recruitment as a crisis and not just a problem."

Article Index

Call Centre Workers Earn £8,000 Less than Average Pay

Call centre workers’ salaries amount to only 60% of average earnings. They would need to earn £8,000 a year more just to reach average earnings, according to a new TUC report out yesterday.

It’s your call, released on the first day of a new TUC campaign on call centre workers, shows they earn around 40% less than average earnings. Average mid-point salaries for call handlers show that those in Wales are the lowest paid (£11,100) and London’s call handlers, the highest (£14,050).

However, the TUC report also says that although call centres are characterised by low pay, the concentration of centres in areas like Glasgow and South Wales are driving up standards as employers compete with each other to keep staff. And although starting salaries can be as little as £7,500 some call handlers earn more than £20,000.

It’s your call also says:

It’s your call features testimonies from call centre workers who report:

It’s your call urges employers to negotiate deals with staff, offering flexible working arrangements, and compensation for working unsocial hours, as well as sensitive monitoring of calls and setting of targets.

But TUC General Secretary John Monks said: "As the positive stories in our report show, many call centres don’t deserve the sweatshop image they’re tainted with. The good call centres we highlight prove the industry can offer good working conditions and still be profitable."

His argument was, though, that there are still too many call centres exploiting their staff. "That’s why we’re running this campaign - to make sure call handlers know their rights and to raise the status of call centres by encouraging shoddy employers to improve their standards."

Article Index

Protesters Blockade Faslane Base

Anti-nuclear protesters blockaded the entrance to Britain's main Trident nuclear submarine base yesterday and brought the base to a standstill.

The protest had the backing of Scottish actor Sean Connery. Although he could not attend the demonstration at the Faslane base in person, he gave his backing to the demonstrators from the Trident Ploughshares campaign.

``I cannot be with you in person because of filming commitments. But be assured that I am with you in spirit and give you best wishes for your demonstration and your just cause,'' Connery told former Scottish National Party head Alex Salmond by phone.

The protest started at dawn and was attended by hundreds of anti-nuclear demonstrators from across Britain and Europe.

Strathclyde police said they had arrested 40 men and 19 women out of a group of around 200 protesters at base's north gate. Some had strapped themselves at the top of large scaffolding 'tripods' to make it more difficult to remove them. MP George Galloway was among those arrested.

The naval base on the Clyde is home to four of Britain's nuclear submarines, which the Trident Ploughshares argue are illegal because they cannot distinguish between military and civilian targets.

At a similar protest last year, more than 180 people were arrested.

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