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EDITIONS
Saturday, 14 April, 2001, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
Blunkett turns on teacher hecklers
protesters
Protest was about the suspension of industrial action
By Sean Coughlan at the NUT conference in Cardiff

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has hit back at his classroom critics, turning on hecklers at a teachers' union conference.

Addressing the National Union of Teachers in Cardiff, Mr Blunkett broke away from his prepared speech to complain about the "silly, silly, silly" protesters who were interrupting him.

Click here to watch his speech

The education secretary made little attempt to hide his exasperation with this traditionally rough ride for visiting ministers, particularly as the heckling came while he was praising teachers for raising standards.

"I've never known anybody so keen to deny progress," said Mr Blunkett, listing the improvements in primary school test results.

"Hell's bells, if we can't celebrate that you might as well all go home. Honestly this is really a silly, silly nonsense..."

david blunkett
David Blunkett: Exasperated
And he attacked the "absolute silliness" of protesters, whom he dismissed as "a little group of Socialist Workers".

Delegates protesting at the shortage of teachers held up placards during his speech with the slogan "we won't cover" - a reference to the industrial action which the union has suspended.

But speaking afterwards, Mr Blunkett said that such a visual protest was "rather futile", considering that the education secretary is blind.

Highlights

Despite his frustration with the heckling, Mr Blunkett's speech held a strongly conciliatory tone, repeatedly calling for teachers and government to work together in a partnership.

Mr Blunkett highlighted what he claimed as the advances of his time in office, with increased funding, higher standards in primary schools and improvements to teachers' pay.

And taking up the olive branch, the union's general secretary, Doug McAvoy, responded to the education secretary's speech by expressing his hope that the government and unions could achieve an agreement in the forthcoming independent review on teachers' workload.

Mr Blunkett also announced in his speech that there will be efforts to limit the damage to teachers from malicious allegations by pupils.

There will be 1.4m funding for a network of co-ordinators who will speed up the investigation of allegations, from the current nine month average down to three months.

Mr Blunkett shared the platform with Marjorie Evans, the headteacher who was wrongly accused of mistreating a pupil, whose case he referred to as a "tragedy".

There was also an announcement of extra funding to raise the academic achievement of ethnic minority pupils, with 1.5m funding for "innovative" approaches in 10 local education authorities.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sue Littlemore in Cardiff
"Teachers are fed up and angry"
Three teachers
give their reactions to Mr Blunkett's speech
The BBC's Rory Maclean
"The conference reserved most of its barracking for Theresa May"
See also:

18 Feb 01 | UK Politics
27 Nov 00 | UK Education
21 Sep 00 | UK Education
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