Blair kept his funding promises

29th April 2005 at 01:00
If election manifesto promises determined votes, teachers would be lining up this week to back the opposition parties. The TES readers' jury has voted the Conservatives' pledge to end special school closures as the most popular single policy. Readers also like the tough Tory line on discipline and their promise to end appeals panels for excluded pupils.

The Liberal Democrats, too, are scoring well with the jury. Their promises to free schools from league tables and tests and introduce smaller classes have pulled them ahead of Labour. Nearly a third of readers registering their voting intentions would vote Lib Dem compared with around a fifth for Labour.

Yet all is not as it seems. Only around 10 per cent of readers would actually vote Conservative and the good showing for the Lib Dems is out of line with a recent FDS poll commissioned by The TES which put Labour well ahead. The Conservatives' trouble is that they lack credibility in an area which is one of teachers' main concerns - resources. Teachers do not believe that they can lower taxes and raise public spending at the same time. Schools remember the final years of the Major government when buildings crumbled and governing bodies were forced to issue redundancy notices.

And unfortunately for Michael Howard, resources are Labour's strongest suit. Spending per pupil is up pound;1,000 since 1997, pound;10 billion has been ploughed into school buildings and the pledge at the last election of 10,000 more teachers has been met.

In Wales, where the funding system is different, schools appear to have benefited less though they have escaped some policies which irritate their English colleagues. There are no specialist schools and academies and national tests for 11-year-olds have been abandoned.

The downside of Labour's record in England is that it has interfered in schools more than any Conservative government has ever done, tying teachers down with minute-by-minute plans for teaching literacy and an insistence that money should be spent on its pet projects.

No wonder that teachers find the Lib Dems' programme for loosening the controls attractive. But the first difficulty for Charles Kennedy's party is that teachers do not quite believe that the stuff of staffroom fantasy is about to become reality. The second is that Labour has begun to relax its grip on schools. There is talk of creativity in primary schools, more say in the curriculum for secondary teachers and more freedom for heads to spend money as they choose.

Labour's electoral appeal is unashamedly to parents and not teachers: choice, expansion of popular schools, shiny new academies to draw in middle-class families. But many teachers will still vote Labour because they trust the party's commitment to schools. Ministers may not send their children to the local comprehensive but they do at least send them to state schools. Most importantly, a Blair government whose slogan is education, education, education has put its money where its mouth is.

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