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4,000 wishes for Blair

Teachers have delivered 4,000 wishes this week, as Prime Minister Tony Blair called the general election for May 5 and promised increased investment in education if Labour wins a third term.

The first TES Readers' Manifesto, compiled from three wishes made by 1,300 teachers across Wales and England, answers Mr Blair's challenge that the future of education is in the hands of voters.

Teachers have called for more freedom from testing and targets for their pupils, more money for their schools and a new respect for the professionalism of teachers.

In Wales, where tests for 11 and 14-year-olds are being phased out, teachers' wishes included more investment in special educational needs and in Reading Recovery, the literacy programme for struggling young readers.

Education policy in Wales is almost entirely in the hands of the National Assembly, which is not up for election until 2007. But the total budget available for Welsh public services depends on spending levels agreed at Westminster.

As Mr Blair announced the polling date, he promised "a rising investment in every school, every pupil, every teacher, so that all our children get the best start in life".

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, told leading City figures earlier that education would be the top priority in Labour's manifesto. "Our mission is to ensure British people are the best educated and most skilled," he said.

A TES Cymru poll last month revealed that Welsh teachers were disillusioned with Labour, showing support slumping from 37 per cent in 2001 to 23 per cent now - level with Plaid Cymru. The Conservatives were doing better in Wales than England, up two points to 12 per cent of the Welsh teacher vote, with the Lib Dems also up two points to 11 per cent.

An opinion poll conducted for Sky News by YouGov on Tuesday put Labour and the Tories neck and neck at 36 per cent of those questioned, with 26 per cent backing the Liberal Democrats.

The Readers' Manifesto also rings warning bells for the Government, with one teacher wishing for her pupils: "Less Blairing over their lives."

A backlash against the high degree of centralised control dominated the teachers' wish list. Teachers said their pupils' education was being stunted by an over-reliance on testing and targets, and their lives were being blighted by paperwork.

Worryingly for Labour, which is pitching itself to the electorate as the party of public-service investment, several said they taught in "Dickensian" buildings and suffered from shortages of basic resources such as textbooks.

Many teachers still said their wish was for smaller classes, despite a pledge to reduce them as far back as 1997.

Plaid Cymru has pledged to supply "adequate" funding for education, battle for the Assembly to wrest full control of education from Westminster, scrap tuition fees for higher education, and pump more cash into Welsh universities for scientific research.

Plaid Cymru political researcher, Victor Anderson, added: "It seems teachers are not happy at the moment. We will also see that they can retire on an adequate pension at 60."

Shadow education secretary Tim Collins said the Conservatives would deliver teachers' wishes for more freedom. He said: "Our plans for education will give teachers the freedom to teach to the pupil's needs and not to the test, by scrapping targets and reducing prescription in the national curriculum."

But teachers will need persuading they will get the extra funding they need from the Conservatives, who plan to spend pound;35 billion less than Labour.

Liberal Democrats are promising to fulfil the demands to scrap league tables and slash testing in England. They are also pledging to scrap the Child Trust Fund and reduce primary class sizes to 20 for the youngest children.


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