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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 12:16 GMT
Writer's 'bog standard' regrets
Tony Blair
Peter Hyman wrote speeches for the prime minister before entering teaching
The speech-writer who coined the phrase "bog standard comprehensive" now regrets his choice of words - not least because he is now a teacher himself.

Peter Hyman, who worked for seven years as a Downing Street insider, has become a teacher at Islington Green secondary school, in north London.

And he says that he would not now have used such an "emotive" phrase.

Mr Hyman also says the rhetoric of political debate can overlook the realities of implementing policies.

The phrase "bog standard comprehensive" was used by the prime minister's official spokesman before the last general election - as a way of highlighting a shift in education policy towards a greater variety in types of school.

'Lynched in the staffroom'

But it immediately sparked a war of words with teachers' unions and supporters of comprehensive education. The then Education Secretary, David Blunkett, distanced himself from the phrase.

And looking back, Mr Hyman, the former head of the Downing Street strategic communications unit, has his own doubts about what became one of the most widely quoted phrases about the state school system.

"I'm not sure that I'd use the phrase now if I was starting again, particularly now I'm on the front line, I'd probably be lynched in the staffroom if I did," Mr Hyman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"But what it was trying to do was to dramatise the move from a comprehensive system to a system of greater diversity, with different types of schools growing up with their own ethos.

"So behind it there was a laudable idea, but I'm not sure if I would use such emotive language if I had my time again."

Adding to the irony, Islington Green is the local school that the Blairs did not choose for their own children.

Mr Hyman's experience as a teacher has also given him a different perspective on political battles over education.

Spin cycle

"The tyranny of momentum politics" means that parties have to keep promoting new policies, he says, to avoid accusations of drifting. But this competition to look active and innovative can leave behind the practicalities of putting these ideas into practice.

For people working in schools, this can feel like a constant deluge of initiatives, he says.

"My view of government has changed. I was someone who liked the big initiative, the big gesture, the symbolic policy ... but now I'm realising that real delivery is about the smaller things accumulating by being seriously implemented over time."

Once government has provided the framework and resources, he says that politicians have to "let go" and trust professionals with the implementation.

Mr Hyman also gives an insight into the government's thinking, saying that there had been debates about whether increased education funding should be a one-off catch-up process, or whether such increases should be sustained.

The former speech writer says that he personally favours a higher top rate of income tax to generate more funding for education, but he says: "I'm not sure Tony Blair is persuaded of the case yet."

Peter Hyman on his new life as a teacher

Comprehensives set for overhaul
12 Feb 01 |  Education

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