Chancers board the education battle bus

6th May 2005 at 01:00
Ted Wragg's cleverly crafted piece on a citizenship lesson discussing what the political parties stand for was a cracker ("All 'new' and the same", TES, April 22). Matching each party's modern policies to its traditional values has indeed become a confusing exercise.

As if to illustrate the point, in the same issue Ruth Lea's Another Voice, "Let the Tories free teachers to teach", appears to show seismic repositioning by both the previous and present incumbents of government.

We learn that at the heart of the "blessedly short" Conservative manifesto "is the realisation that the current tight, centralised and target-driven control of the education system simply does not work". (My jaw sagged, but I soldiered on.) "The Conservatives recognise that all teachers need to be liberated from unnecessary red tape and regulations and be trusted as professionals."

But just a minute, weren't they the ones who gave us the national curriculum, SATs, targets, performance tables, Chris Woodhead and the Office for Standards in Education? Not what you would describe as being light on red tape and regulations, to be fair. Nor have these phenomena historically reflected a teaching profession being "trusted to make the right decisions for their pupils".

Having constructed the infernal machine, the inventors rather carelessly lost control of it, first by making the system so regulation-dependent and target-driven that it needed continuous updating and maintenance, and then at the ballot boxes.

The new incumbents must have been gleefully wide-eyed at the rigid, state-controlled, centralised education system that they inherited - a wonderful new machine to get their hands on, and tweak to ever-more torturous settings. ("Hey, how tight will this thing go, Tony? And what do you mean, don't feed the inspectors yet?"). I'm sure that they couldn't believe their ideological luck, that the opposition would build such a smashing New Labour toy.

So signing up to this new Conservative ideal of trusting the professionals is probably easier for newer teachers who skimped on recent educational policy developments when they trained. Or for those so battered by experience and with such sore vocal cords that fatigue makes it easier to forget the first nine years of the most prescriptive, regulation-rich, target-driven, teacher-disempowering educational brainwave in the country's history.

A Labour government resisting the opportunity to modernise the curriculum, hanging on to the gold standard while catering poorly for the most needy children - well, I'm blowed.

A Conservative party advocating less prescription and more listening to teachers - well, knock me down with a feather. I certainly wouldn't like to have to explain the concept of political opportunism to Jason, Melissa and Kirsty.

Biff Crabbe 16 Victoria Road Walton-on-the-Naze Essex

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