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EDITIONS
Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 22:44 GMT 23:44 UK
Head's report card on Labour
Janet Saunders
Janet Saunders says that standards have risen

When the Labour party entered office five years ago this week, head teacher Janet Saunders was optimistic.

Primary schools were to be at the cutting edge of the government's plans for "education, education, education".

And she was hopeful that there would be more money and more opportunities.

But has the government lived up to her expectations?

Bullying poster
Behaviour has not worsened in the past five years, says head teacher

Janet Saunders is head of Henwick Primary School, a large primary school drawing its intake from council estates in Eltham, south London.

She says there have been clear improvements in the last five years - and she highlights the literacy hour and numeracy strategy, which have improved standards in English and maths.

And she has welcomed the cutting of class sizes.

But on the down side, she says teachers' workload has grown to unacceptable levels - and coupled with relatively low pay, there is a very real problem with retaining staff.

The pledge to increase funding for schools was an important part of Labour's agenda. And Janet Saunders says there has been an increase in money, but not without catches.

The basic level of funding she says does not seem any greater - but there has been a large increase in money available through government initiatives.

Community links

In her school, the Sure Start scheme has allowed her to develop a successful pre-school facility, which has helped to develop links with parents and to encourage adult education.

Involvement in the local education action zone has also brought extra funds, she says. All the teachers have a laptop computer - and all the 10 and 11 year olds who do not have a computer at home, have been given a refurbished PC.

After-school clubs have also been a feature of the last five years, with clubs in computers, dance, science, reading and football.

Staffing has also changed. Apart from the deepening problems with a shortage of teachers, she says the role of classroom assistants has grown, particularly with the arrival of the literacy hour.

In her school there are now nine classroom assistants, compared to four in 1997.

League tables and tests were already in place when Labour entered office, but she says that there has been an increase in the pressure to perform well in tests.

Most teachers remain unconvinced by the tests, targets and tables, she says, but she expects that they are here to stay.

Discipline

Claims that classroom discipline has worsened have not been reflected in her experience.

There are clear rules about behaviour in her school, she says.

In five years there had only been one exclusion - although this single case involved a pupil "running amok with a knife".

"It's been a good time to be a head teacher," she says. Although she admits to a degree of "initiative fatigue", she says there has been a greater sense of professionalism and clearer focus within the primary sector.

From her assessment, there is more money and standards have risen. But the iceberg on the horizon is the government's failure to win the trust of teachers - and the need to make teaching a more attractive career.


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