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Tuesday, 9 February, 1999, 18:52 GMT
Blair learns from headteachers
Tony Blair: Seeking to tap heads' expertise
Fourteen of England's best headteachers have been to 10 Downing Street to tell the prime minister how to improve education standards.

Tony Blair, the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, and the Chief Schools Inspector, Chris Woodhead, had invited the group to discuss the secrets of their success during an hour-long seminar around the oval table in the Cabinet Room.

The heads' schools were among several hundred praised in Mr Woodhead's annual report.

Ofsted annual 98
Mr Blair said he found it "very encouraging" to see steady improvements in teaching standards. He said this was "a tribute to the dedication and commitment of teachers, parents and pupils everywhere".

"We are getting the fundamentals right, but as the report makes clear, there's more to do and schools need effective leaders," he said.

"What is immensely helpful for me is to try to have a frank discussion about where we are, what progress we're making and what more we need to do.

cabinet table
Tony Blair: "A frank discussion about where we are"
"I think it is important to try to learn the lessons in that and how we can tackle some of the schools that aren't doing so well so we can help them to improve their performance."

Tom Moore, headteacher at St Mary's RC High School, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, said afterwards that the meeting had been "very positive".

"I suggested that the government looks carefully at the White Paper for funding of schools and the way local education authorities tried to subvert it," he said.

"I said there was curriculum overload in terms of the subjects students have to study for GCSE. Students would be more successful if they had more choice about the GCSEs they took rather than being told what they had to take."

Truly comprehensive

Mr Moore said "expectation" was the reason why his school and its 1,200 pupils had been so successful.

"Ours is a totally comprehensive school. We have children from poor or deprived backgrounds and children from affluent backgrounds," he said.

"We expect them to be in uniform, to work hard and to behave themselves. When we first get parents to the school, we set down the ground rules and say: 'If you don't like it, don't bring your children here - we are not going to change'.

"We don't tolerate indiscipline. We let the children know the rules very clearly. They don't want wishy-washy rules, they want to know how far they can go before they get into trouble."

Dawn Perry, head of Roseacre Junior School in Maidstone, Kent, said the Prime Minister debated with the group how the often negative image of the teaching profession could be improved to make staff recruitment easier.

High expectations

Her school had been named by Ofsted as one of the best because of the calibre of staff and the fact its 400 pupils wanted to do well.

"We care very much about the children. We know them well - not just in the classroom but out in the playground also," she said.

"The children know that there is an expectation that they will work hard and behave well and they rise to that expectation. They behave in a way that they don't want to let us down."

The head teachers who attended the seminar were:

  • John Jones, Ruffwood School, Kirby, Merseyside.
  • Alasdair Macdonald, Morpeth School, London.
  • Maureen Cruickshank, Beauchamp College, Oadby, Leicester.
  • Roger Coles, Oxted County School, Oxted, Surrey.
  • Stewart Francis, Colchester Royal Grammar School, Colchester.
  • Tom Moore, St Mary's RC High School, Chesterfield, Derbyshire.
  • Dawn Perry, Roseacre Junior School, Maidstone, Kent.
  • Richard White, Trafalgar Junior School, Twickenham, Middlesex.
  • Angela Crook, Charlestown County Primary School, St Austell, Cornwall.
  • Judith Wilkins, Wrockwardine Wood Infant School, Telford, Shropshire.
  • Helen Ridding, St Peter's CE Primary School, Paddington, London.
  • Clare Ellis, St Joseph's RC Primary School, Blaydon-on-Tyne, Tyne and Wear.
  • Richard Bignell, Exhall Grange School, Coventry.
  • Kay Bedford, Swiss Cottage School, London.
Headteacher Stewart Francis urges the prime minister to reform the National Curriculum
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