At least one of those Labour ministers who have had to leave the hustings to attend to their departmental responsibilities during the past few weeks will be wishing that she could have stayed on the campaign trail. Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, has had to attend some of the surprising number of teachers´conferences that take place in Britain at this time of year and, like many who have held her job before her, she has had a rough ride. Since coming to office at the end of last year Mrs Kelly has concentrated on two policies, both of which are disliked by significant sections of the teaching profession. The first is her rejection of proposals to reform the pattern of examinations in British secondary schools in a way that would match examinations more closely to the abilities of the pupils.
The second is her commitment to increasing ”parent power” in schools and this reform came under particularly strong attack from the annual meeting of the National Association of Head Teachers this week. In a valedictory speech after 27 years as general secretary of the Association, David Hart likened Mrs Kelly´s ideas to ”putting an alcoholic in charge of a bar”. It was not the happiest of metaphors, but one can see what Mr Hart means. Most teachers today, faced with indiscipline and violence on an almost daily basis, believe that parents are part of the problem, not of the solution. Mr Hart suggested that all parents should be required to sign up to basic standards, including respect for school staff and a recognition that violence, verbal threats and abuse were unacceptable. In today´s schools, apparently, teachers have to be protected from parents as well as from pupils.
Any parent who has been frustrated by the fleeting contact with their children´s teachers typical of parents' evenings will recognise the need for something more substantial. But Ruth Kelly's proposals go much too far and will risk making schools ungovernable.