Thursday, October 21, 1999 Published at 07:28 GMT 08:28 UK
Blair's stern lesson for teachers
Tony Blair: Stepping up attack on "forces of conservatism"
Teachers are the latest public sector workers to fall in the sights of the prime minister's attack on the "forces of conservatism".
The day after he told the BBC that doctors often resisted change that would benefit patients, Tony Blair instructed teachers to end the "culture of excuses".
His attack provoked an immediate, irked reaction from union leaders.
Nigel de Gruchy of the NASUWT teachers' union said: "It's rather unedifying to see the prime minister thrashing about blaming unspecified numbers of teachers and doctors."
The prime minister addressed hundreds of newly-appointed headteachers on Thursday morning - the day after a survey showed one in five advertised vacancies for heads in England and Wales could not be filled.
The chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, backed the criticism from the top of government.
But the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, sought to soothe irate teachers. "We are not knocking teachers," he said.
He added: "Every time we take a step forward there are those who resist it.
Mr Blair reiterated this theme in a speech to new headteachers on Thursday, highlighting the success of literacy and numeracy strategies in England's primary schools.
"What have we got do is get the money and investment in but tie it to the change and modernisation. Make sure we are removing the bad and rewarding the good," he said.
Every school head will be given a laptop computer linked to the new college, to enable them to share ideas and good practice, he said.
But Mr Blair claimed too many teachers have little ambition, reject excellence and treat poverty as an excuse for failure.
'Forces of conservatism'
It provoked an angry backlash from many right-wing politicians and commentators, particularly over a passage in which Mr Blair suggested these forces had led to the murders of Martin Luther King and Stephen Lawrence.
But while it was suggested the prime minister had backed away from the confrontational stance, he now appears to be making it central to his public image.
His remarks on Thursday will also draw parallels to off-the-cuff comments in which he said he bore "scars on my back" from trying to force the public sector to change.
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