Battle for hearts and minds

27th April 2007 at 01:00
With less than a week to go before polling day, The TESS has been catching up with our panel of teachers to find out if education issues - or anything else -have affected their voting intentions. Meanwhile, our online staffroom, far right, is hosting some robust views

Gill Graham, a teacher at Hanover Street Primary in Aberdeen.

She voted Labour last time and is pleased with the support it gave education in the previous Scottish Executive. However, she started the campaign with an open mind until she had scrutinised the party's pledges.

Ms Graham says she is still unsure, although she has ruled out the SNP as too focused on independence rather than building on what has already been achieved: "Issues in schools, communities and Scotland in general will still need to be tackled, whether we are independent or not."

The general consensus between the parties on discipline, class sizes and skills policies is welcome, she says, although she wants more explanation on how they would implement them - as well as pay for them.

Ms Graham fears that promises of more teachers might see a drop in standards. "I am particularly thinking of the school experience that students undertake, which is a vital part of training. If numbers on courses are too high, students may not get the experience. Plus, schools can only take so many students at a time."

Douglas Simpson, headteacher of Fortrose Academy on the Black Isle.

Normally a Liberal Democrat voter, he is concerned about Labour's proposal to raise the school leaving age to 18. "Holding on to some disenchanted youngsters until 16 can be challenging enough," he said.

But he likes the Conservative policy to devolve more power to headteachers, and the Green Party's offer of bonuses to staff working in deprived areas.

"Nothing has swayed me completely, one way or the other," he says. "Perhaps the greatest difficulty is keeping track of, and taking seriously, all the marvellous promises which are being made - especially by parties which have no chance of holding office."

But he is pleased to see most parties calling for more teachers so class sizes can be cut. "Nothing would have a more beneficial impact on Scottish education."

Mr Simpson is concerned, however, that the previous Scottish Executive seems to have failed to produce more PE teachers. "If we are going to improve the health of our youngsters by providing more PE, particularly in areas of deprivation, it is vital that enhanced staffing is provided."

Judith Fryer, P3 teacher at South Parks Primary in Glenrothes.

A Liberal Democrat voter, she didn't feel initially she was likely to change her loyalties - but now she is not so sure. She is pleased the main parties are in broad agreement on reducing class sizes, tackling indiscipline and extending nursery provision.

Labour's plan for a "discipline code" interests her as it would include parents and pupils; and off-site units for disruptive or aggressive pupils, supported by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, get her backing.

However, she feels the cost of free playgroup places, promised by her own party, would be better spent on ensuring all nurseries are run by a qualified teacher. She also has doubts about whether there would be time for the Liberal Democrats' proposed hour of PE every day.

Despite her uncertainty, she knows whom she won't be voting for. "I was startled to find virtually nothing in the Conservatives manifesto for the family about education," she says. "Their manifesto to tackle crime and drug use had far more in it about how to punish young people than I could find about how to educate them."

Alasdair Simpson, student teacher at Strathclyde University.

This will be the first time the 20-year-old has been old enough to vote in the Scottish elections. He voted in the Westminster election and, although he will not reveal how he voted, he entered the Holyrood campaign with an open mind.

He hoped the parties would promise to tackle class sizes and is pleased to see pledges to that effect in both the Labour and SNP manifestos. But he is "leaning towards the Liberal Democrats". He does not think the SNP's plans add up financially, and he wants to see a change from a Labour-led administration.

Mr Simpson is disappointed education has not featured more prominently in the campaign, which he feels has been dominated by the debate about independence. In general, he says: "There is not much to choose between the parties - I don't think any are going to make a disaster of education."

Surindar Bhopal, chartered teacher in the biology department at Hillhead High in Glasgow.

Investment in education has been a key topic for him in this election.

"Labour has shown quite a strong commitment, with spending promised to increase significantly in real terms," he says. "However, the SNP alternative to PPP for school building projects may be less costly, in principle, but would it be more efficient?"

The SNP's promises of lower class sizes and grants for students from poorer families are also attracting Mr Bhopal's interest.

However, it may not be education issues which make up his mind in this election, with reforms to council tax and independence featuring strongly during the campaign. "Education has featured very little as a major issue - so far at least," he says.

Mr Bhopal is wrestling with which alternative to the council tax would be the fairest, and also with the idea of a referendum on independence. "The next week or two will be very interesting in terms of public opinion and political debate," he says. "I'm still undecided which way to vote. I will make my mind up just before election day."


"I will vote for the party which will provide the funding to put all the well-qualified but currently unemployed teachers (primary) into classrooms to team teach, (for example, approximately 30 children with two teachers in attendance at all times). This would reduce class sizes (in terms of pupilteacher attention) without worrying about accommodation issues and would also help with increasing behaviour issues. You never know - test results may even go up too."


"I recall that we were to have a maximum of 20 pupils in S1-2 maths and English classes by 2007. I believe it's now an average of 20 per class, subject to local agreeements. Whatever appears in manifestos is never totally implemented."


"I am going to vote for the SNP as they are the only party who can potentially rid us of this Lib-Lab coalition in Scotland. I don't think independence will ever be an issue because I can't see the Scottish people voting for it in a referendum in 2007, or 2010, or whenever.

"They are also pledging to take over student loan repayments for domiciled Scottish students and cancel the graduate endowment of pound;2,000. Here's hoping they follow through."


"It's tempting to vote for the SNP constituency candidate in north-east Scotland so as to reduce Alex Salmond's chance of securing election on the regional member list. It would be interesting to see the party leader not elected - it would wipe the smile off Alickie's face, pronto." ambrdale "I'm just about to finish paying back my student loans - and I graduated in 1995. I deferred for a few years because I was teaching part-time. But there will be other people like me, so the bill for that could be enormous and that's only one of the huge bills the SNP are planning to pick up. I'm afraid we'll all end up paying much higher taxes because we are now relatively well-paid. Let's hope not.

"With some schools already overcrowded and new builds being designed for a finite number of large classes, I ask: are we all back to teaching in huts? We need a party that will talk about the practicalities of its policies - not just the good bits."


"I'm voting SNP - not because I totally agree with their politics but because they seem to be our best chance of getting rid of Labour. Many members of my family are teachers and I've been aware of Labour corruption since I was a child - hearing tales of jobs for the boys and numpty local councillors being wined and dined for favours.

"I'm not so naive as to believe that other political parties are lily-white, but any party in power for too long grows steadily rotten. So, all my intelligent colleagues, vote for any party except Labour, and let's have a much-needed change. Who knows, it may be for the better - it couldn't be worse."

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