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Teachers square up to woo voters

Rivals for Welsh constituency draw up their battle lines. Nicola Porter reports.

The gloves are off for two teachers who are standing against each other as parliamentary rivals in a Welsh constituency. The playground battle for a Westminster seat will take place in Ogmore, Bridgend, where both candidates hope to snatch a historic victory from reigning Labour MP, and former college tutor, Huw Irranca-Smith.

As the election race hots up, both John Williams (Plaid Cymru) and Norma Lloyd-Nesling (Conservative) reckon the other is no competition in clinching teachers' votes.

The teachers' head-to-head will take place in a constituency where Labour won a convincing majority of almost 15,000 in the 2001 general election.

But the teachers do not see it as a one-horse race, and both insist that the National Assembly under Labour has let down teachers in Wales.

Education has been thrust to the forefront of the 2005 general election campaign as Tony Blair and Michael Howard make their pre-election pledges in the classroom.

Mr Williams, a higher education lecturer, and Ms Lloyd-Nesling, a supply teacher with 30 years' experience teaching English, both believe education in Wales is under-funded.

They both believe in scrapping tuition fees for students and in the need for more vocational education. But their mutual respect for one another ends there. The pair could not be split more dramatically on how Welsh education should go forward. Mr Williams agrees wholeheartedly with the introduction of the Welsh baccalaureate, but Ms Lloyd-Nesling hates the idea.

Mr Williams, an information and communications technology lecturer at Neath Port Talbot college, said Welsh teachers were "overworked, undermined and demoralised". With true political grit, he declared: "This election gives us the opportunity to highlight Labour's poor record in education. The Tories brought market mechanisms into education, which overloaded teachers and undermined their commitment.

"Labour has made no real effort to reverse this trend and has made many misleading announcements about additional funding, most of which has failed to materialise in practice."

But Ms Lloyd-Nesling said the top teacher gripe in Wales was a new wave of political correctness sweeping the classroom.

She said: "Teachers feel powerless to discipline children the way they should. The Conservatives would empower teachers again, and put school discipline at the top of the agenda."

Ms Lloyd-Nesling grew up in Abercynon, a traditional mining community and Labour strong-hold. She is an active member of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations.

She said: "I don't see that by being a Conservative I am a traitor to my roots. I made my own mind up, I didn't vote Labour just because everybody else did."

While Mr Williams insists true-blue Norma has no chance, his rival reckons voters will warm to her no-nonsense approach to affairs of the classroom.

On her teaching opponent's confidence, she said: "Most people may see the political race between Labour and Plaid, but the victory is never sealed until the votes are counted."

If either candidate could have one teacher wish, Ms Lloyd-Nesling would vote for less political correctness in schools, and Mr Williams for more funding.

The pair are two of seven teachers from across Wales standing as candidates in the general election.

Welsh education candidates

Quentin Gwynne Edwards, Conservative, Pontypridd: former head of Bilton Grange school, in Rugby; now south and west regional director for the Independent Schools Council Information Services.

Norma Lloyd-Nesling, Conservative, Ogmore: English supply teacher Neil McEvoy, Plaid Cymru, Cardiff West: lecturer in languages at Coleg Gwent Geraint Owen, Plaid Cymru, Neath: head of drama at Neath Port Talbot college.

Aneurin Preece, Plaid Cymru, Torfaen: part-time teacher in higher education.

Mark Strong, Plaid Cymru, Clwyd South: art and English teacher at Nene college, Northampton.

John Williams, Plaid Cymru, Ogmore: ICT lecturer at Neath Port Talbot college

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