Blair: the teachers' verdict

19th January 2001 at 00:00
Tony Blair was elected on a bright May day in 1997. Teachers cheered. Then the realities of office set in. Jon Slater reports

It is election year again and the policy boffins of all political parties are beavering away on their manifestos.

But while the politicians perfect their public pitch, teachers may be producing their own wish-list. If they could write the manifesto of the winning party what would their priorities be?

That was the question The TES asked 14 teachers, heads and deputies from a range of schools across England and Wales. The manifesto (right) draws on their views as well as the findings of last week's Teachers 2001 poll, carried out exclusively for The TES by FDS International.

Verdicts of panel members on the Government's record so far ranged from sympathetic to vitriolic. There was backing for ministers' attempts to raise standards but concern over their methods.

Recruitment and professional status were seen as the biggest problems facing education. "There's a feeling that there's not enough people coming through. I work in a school that people want to teach in but for the first time this year we're finding recruitment difficult. In the past, we always put in an advert, sat back and decided who we wanted to come and teach for us. People aren't going into teaching and others are getting out as soon as they can," said Pat Dwyer, deputy head of Durham Johnston school, Durham.

Workload, stress and low pay as well as pressure to meet government targets and to move up the league tables were seen as the main causes of the staffing crisis.

Anthony Handley, who teaches at Coloma Convent school, Croydon, summed up the views of the group. "People who have choices in life do not go home and work until 11pm for pound;25,000. Kids see this and think they're massively over-worked, stressed and earning not very much money. How can this be happening? The obvious answer is that the teacher is not very bright. That's why the status of the profession is as low as it is," he said.

Many of the panel were angry about the extent to which the Government has restricted their freedom at work.

"We need the Government to move away from the 'you do it this way' approach. They should let us do things the way they feel they will work within an overall structure.

"I don't give teachers in my school the paperwork until it's decided how we will adopt it for our children," said Colin Harris, head of Warren Park primary in Hampshire.

Most did give Labour credit for putting more money into schools, although there were complaints about the strings attached.

Carole Clayson, head of Wesley first school in Norwich, said: "I can see more money but it's very targeted. I would rather have the money to spend on resources and classroom teachers. The business of bids is horrendous. How many of us are experts? And it takes so much time - it takes weeks. If you don't get the money you've wasted all that time."

"I don't feel as negative," said John Jones, head at Maghull high school in Liverpool. "I think we thought that under New Labour the pressure would be taken off. Instead what we have got is high pressure and high support. I get pound;70,000 to spend in April and nobody's telling me how to spend it. The only pressure on me is from my governors who want to see attainment targets met."

There was anger at the "crude" way in which results are compared across schools and a feeling that the Government has yet to tackle the backlog of building work.

How would teachers tackle these problems? The panel was keen to see a substantial across-the-board pay increase for all teachers. And ministers could make a contribution by being more positive. It was felt that they only sounded sincere when criticising teachers. However, they acknowledged that warm words and higher pay might not be the best remedy for low morale and recruitment. "You can throw as much money at me as you like but I will go to my grave wishing that throughout my career I had more time," said Mr Jones.

An increase in the amount of non-contact time available to teachers would have a dramatic impact on stress in schools and would ultimately boost recruitment, the panel believed.

"You need to ensure that every teacher has an additional hour of non-contact time each year. At the end of six years, every teacher would have a day of non-contact time and they will still be working more hours than in many other countries," said Mr Handley.

Like their colleagues nationwide, most of the panel backed Labour at the last election. But our panel suggested that this support is not rock solid. Many were considering switching to the Liberal Democrats this time round.

Labour's mark 5.510

TES teachers' jury

The panel members were: John Jones, head of Maghull school, Sefton; Carole Clayson, head of Wesley first school, Norwich; Colin Harris, head of Warren Park primary, Havant, Hampshire; Pat Dwyer, deputy head, Durham Johnston school, Durham; Colin Bowden, Darland high, Wrexham, Kerry Foster, head of religious education, Hindley Mornington high school, nr Wigan; Jennifer Markland, St Peter's primary, Southwark; Louise Robinson, Russet House special school, Enfield, London; Vikki Askew, deputy head, James Allen Girls' school (independent), East Dulwich, London; Anthony Handley, Coloma Convent girls' school, Croydon; John Rees, St Francis Xavier high school, Richmond, North Yorkshire; Selena Cook, Penrhos primary, Swansea, south Wales; Rick Sheehan, Westfield primary, Hull, Diana Sperry, Moat Farm junior, West Midlands.

In January 1997 'The TES' produced a teachers' manifesto based on in-depth consultations with teachers in focus groups. So how has Labour measured up as the next election looms?


* An extra pound;2 billion a year immediately. More of national income to be spent on education over time.

* A limit of 30 pupils per class for all schools, falling to 25 in the longer term.

* Every four-year-old to be given a nursery place. Three-year-olds to join them when money becomes available.

* Steps to raise teachers' status and morale including: enhanced career development, a general teaching council and pay review.

* Replace the Office for Standards in Education with an inspectorate offering schools advice and support.

* Tackle the backlog of school building repairs.


* A higher proportion of national income to be devoted to education.

* Maximum class sizes of 30 for five to seven-year-olds.

* A nursery place for every four-year-old whose parents want it. Pledge to be extended to three-year-olds in the longer term.

* Support as well as pressure, the establishment of a General Teaching Council, and Tony Blair's "education, education, education".

Higher pay to keep good teachers in the classroom.

* No reform of the Office for Standards in Education.

* To end the scandal of the "pound;3 billion backlog"of school building repairs.


* By 2001 2, spending per pupil will have risen more than pound;500 in real terms since 1997.

But initial spending restrictions mean Blair will have spent a lower proportion of national income on education than John Major did in his last term.

* The class size pledge is close to being met. But older pupils are now in larger classes.

* All four-year-olds are now offered a nursery place and there's a promise to extend the pledge to three-year-olds. But there's concern that children are being forced into reception classes rather than nurseries.

* The General Teaching Council has been established and a higher performance relat- ed pay scale for experienced teachers. But status and morale remain problems.

* OFSTED now inspects councils and into FE.

* Ministers have promised pound;7.8bn for school buildings over the next three years. Capital investment has increased from pound;683 million a year in 1997 to more than pound;2bn this year.

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