Cash and class sizes are key

10th January 1997 at 00:00
Class sizes and funding are the two most important election issues in education, according to teachers in The TES focus groups.

Large classes were blamed for discipline problems and disruptive pupils and had knock-on effects such as shortage of books.

Funding was also expected to be important at the ballot box, both for school buildings and equipment and for achieving high standards.

Teachers felt the electorate needed to understand that without the investment of public cash it would be impossible to match the high standards of Japan and Germany.

While the mantra of more money was a basic tenet in most groups, it was occasionally questioned by teachers who wondered about fund-raising and saving money. Constant changes to the curriculum, testing and qualifications were viewed as expensive and a waste of money.

"Courses change year to year . . . kingdoms are built in two or three years and that course is then shelved, so there's a tremendous wastage . . . money rarely goes towards teachers' salaries so that teaching has now become a job rather than a career," said a St Albans secondary teacher.

While most of the groups viewed funding as the job of local or national government, the St Albans interviewees were interested in discussing whether individual fundraising and integrating of schools into the business community were the way forward. "The question would be, and I'm not in any way being cynical - is it the right thing? Should the school be the local community centre as well?" asked one.

Nursery education, likely to become an electoral battleground, is a hot issue among primary teachers who are particularly concerned about vouchers. One teacher foresaw dangers for infant schools in being unable to cope with children entering at a more advanced level after nursery classes.

Also mentioned by four of the six groups as an important issue was that of constant change. Stability was desired, with adjustments to the curriculum and standards together with an increased emphasis on administration getting in the way of teachers doing the job for which they were trained.

Equally, school management and professional status of teachers is perceived as a hot issue. The need for management skills at head and deputy level is widely seen as a problem because of inadequate training, unsuitable candidates, patchy management performance and the waste of teaching skills.

Some teachers also fretted that the emphasis on managerial skills would lead to an unfair bias in schools, with power going into the hands of those with business training or mathematicians, with the academic side possibly taking second place.

Lack of career development is also a talking point, with teachers also feeling that their professional competence is being progressively undermined.

Testing and standards are also felt to contribute to the undermining of teachers and negative public perception. One St Albans teacher said: "On the one hand we're told that your schools are full of lousy teachers and that teachers are not to be listened to if we talk about political issues or whatever and then of course we're blamed for not inspiring that kind of respect.

"There seems to be a slight alteration in perception and it feels as if that's sort of coming from the top as well as elsewhere."

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