This is a very strange general election. No one, not even the pundits, has any idea what the outcome is likely to be. There’s no danger it’s going to get as odd as electing a dead man (Missouri Senate election, 2000), a dog (Cormerant, Minnesota, mayor, 2014) or a football club mascot (H’Angus the Monkey, Hartlepool, mayor, 2002), but it’s weird enough when Labour leader Ed Miliband starts chasing votes by consulting the champion of not voting. Tell us, Ed, what first attracted you to 9.5-million-Twitter-followers Russell Brand?
Despite the problems over school places, schools come way down the agenda – behind the economy, immigration and the NHS. This is a far cry from 1997 when the parent-pleasing promise “education, education, education” swept Tony Blair and New Labour into Downing Street.
This time there are no ambitious slogans: all parties, no matter how they dress it up, know that funding will be a challenge. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts cuts of up to 12 per cent, an issue that might not be rearing its ugly head on Britain’s doorsteps but one that impinges on its staffrooms.
Education secretary Nicky Morgan insists optimistically that the Conservatives will address the cuts in the spending review over the summer, but her Labour shadow, Tristram Hunt, is more realistic. “There’s no point fooling your readers,” he told TES. “Finances will be tight.”
Tight may be understating it: many schools will be in dire straits. John Tomsett, head of Huntington School, points out that over the next four years schools are going to lose £1 in every £8 they currently spend. “And the cuts we have made over the last four years mean we are not quite sure how we are going to continue to thrive,” he says (bit.ly/TomsettElection).
On other issues, there is little to choose between the major political parties – some frills for the party faithful but few thrills for teachers. Both parties have promised a period of stability. Both are keen for greater collaboration between schools in a bid to save money and improve standards, and both are pledging to “get tough” on indiscipline by introducing behaviour management into initial teacher training.
In playing to their respective galleries, the Tories have demanded that every child know their times tables by heart at the end of primary school, and warned that they will turn every struggling and coasting school into an academy. Similarly, Labour have demanded that every teacher become fully qualified, and threatened to take away the tax relief enjoyed by private schools unless they partner with a state school.
Teachers, of course, won’t be thinking only of education. Like everyone else, they have their mortgages, the cost of living and the NHS on their minds. It may even be tempting not to bother to vote.
But, like it or not, schools are moral institutions and teachers are often leaders in their communities. Of all the professions, teachers have a duty to take part in the political process. It is perhaps no coincidence that many polling stations are in schools.
If teachers want a say in their future – and that of their students – and if they want the right to throw the booky wook at politicians over the next five years, then they must vote, vote, vote.
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