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Sunday, 17 March, 2002, 15:15 GMT
Spin doctors 'damage' schools
head teachers meeting in Bournemouth
Head teachers give John Dunford a good reception

Head teachers have accused Downing Street spin doctors of damaging teachers' morale and encouraging them to leave the profession.

General secretary of the Secondary Heads Association (Sha) John Dunford told heads meeting in Bournemouth that too much effort was being put into "spinning" stories.

"Even when good news is being announced, the first priority seems to be the following morning's headlines," he said.

"Many members have said the politicians and their advisers, especially in Downing Street, seemed to be working much harder for their own good than for ours and that announcements seemed designed more to improve the government's standing than to improve the schools."

General secretary of the Secondary Heads Association (SHA) John Dunford
John Dunford believes the government is sending out mixed messages

Mr Dunford said spin, together with a high workload, low pay and badly behaved pupils, had caused a shortage of teachers.

He said head teachers had been upset to read the tricks of the spin trade outlined by the man who used to be the spin doctor for David Blunkett when he was education secretary.

Conor Ryan revealed his secrets for spinning in London's Evening Standard newspaper.

They included publishing bad news stories on Fridays and hiding them on government web pages without sign-posting them on the relevent website's home page.

Mr Ryan also highlighted how bad news could be played down if difficult announcements were made in "written answers" in the Commons, where no statement was made to the House.

Mr Dunford said the government had also damaged morale by sending out mixed messages.

"One week we are the best teaching force in the world, the next week the schools are said to be in a terrible mess and will have to be transformed," he said.

Missing teachers

"One week we are to be given more autonomy, the next we are to be trusted only to implement the government's programme of reform - in precise detail and by yesterday."

Mr Dunford also quoted official statistics showing that more than 80,000 qualified teachers in England had never taught in a school.

In 2001, 83,400 people held teaching certificates they had never used - in an era of acute teacher shortages.

He said the shortages were destined to be a problem for "many years to come" as 80,500 secondary school teachers were aged 45 or over.

While there were currently just under 178,000 teachers working in schools, 77,500 left between 1995 and 2000.

See also:

16 Mar 02 | UK Education
15 Mar 02 | UK Education
19 Feb 02 | UK Education
18 Feb 02 | UK Education
23 Jan 02 | UK Education
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