'Despite what the right-wing media say, I know of few teachers likely to shout "F*ck the Tories"'

Indeed, the overwhelming majority of teachers just want to inculcate the spirit of independent-minded criticism in their students, writes one celebrated educationist

Bernard Trafford

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Calvin Robinson, an IT teacher in North London recently became the face of government’s new teacher recruitment drive. Unfortunately, his first public statement (presumably not uttered in any official role) was to claim that all teachers are lefties, forcing their Corbynist views onto their pupils and effectively brainwashing them.

Mr Robinson has thus identified himself with the kind of right-wingers who accuse the BBC of consistently peddling left-wing ideologies: rather like those leftists convinced the BBC is a serial broadcaster of fake news and staunch supporter of the Tory establishment.

Mr Robinson’s assertion is one of those airy prejudicial generalisations that, though untrue, is widely accepted because it is oft-repeated by sections of the media.

Before the last election, polls suggested that a majority (though not an overwhelming one) of teachers were likely to vote Labour: hardly surprising. Austerity has bitten under the Coalition and subsequent Tory governments: even Justine Greening, who had appeared more empathetic toward the profession than most education secretaries, failed to stand up to the Treasury last month and has stuck teachers with yet another 1 per cent pay rise.

Nonetheless, sensible teachers understand the need to balance the country’s books. They are probably sceptical of repetitive claims from the left that the deficit is attributable exclusively to vastly rich tax-dodgers: or that taxing the top 5 per cent more heavily will solve the problem. But few “ordinary, hardworking, just-about-managing” teachers (to borrow Theresa May’s adjectives) will readily accept messages about austerity delivered in the crisp, posh tones of successive Tory chancellors.

Good teachers are driven by a desire to develop the young minds in their care – but not to control them. They encourage their pupils to think critically: given the shambles in which this country currently finds its entire political class and system, there’s plenty to think critically about. The teachers I come across up and down the country, in all kinds of schools, aren’t the sort of people who think shouting “F*** the Tories” is an appropriate or valuable form of debate. They’re encouraging their pupils to argue rather more effectively.

When teachers have done their job, which is in the overwhelming majority of cases, their pupils leave their care independent-minded and capable of forming their own opinions: they won’t believe uncritically every single thing their teachers tell them.

Moreover, at a time of teacher recruitment crisis, that kind of nasty denigration being spouted by Mr Robinson, especially from someone who is supposed to be doing something about it, helps no one.

Dr Bernard Trafford was until last week headteacher of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne. He is also a former chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference. The views expressed here are personal. He tweets at @bernardtrafford

To read more columns, view his back catalogue

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