ALL THE political parties are treading uneasily in their quest for the teachers' vote. In opposition ranks it is less challenging to approach students with a promise to scrap tuition fees. That is portrayed as a cut and dried matter except for the governing party. Wooing teachers is trickier since education policy cannot ignore the question of standards. No party can be seen accommodating special interests, and yet school improvement may evoke different demands by the profession from those perceived by the wider electorate.
The parties have to decide whether Scottish education is doing reasonably well or pretty badly. They all want to have it both ways. Is it better to say that 85 per cent of teachers do a good job or that 15 per cent perform unsatisfactorily? Both statements are true, according to the Inspectorate.
Politicians will choose one or other way of stating the position depending on the impression they want to create.
Opposition spokesmen will cite inadequate performance by pupils and teachers to point the figure at the Government and to justify the need for higher investment. Labour says that the three-year programme of investment under way will tackle the Tories' legacy of neglect. To some audiences politicians will also bemoan teachers' unwillingness to sort out their own house and modernise their conditions of service.
The other side of the coin is an appeal to teachers' sense of being ill done by. Morale is low, the parties accept, and we will ensure that you do not have to face yet more changes and innovations. In other words, when it suits them politicians take teachers at their own word.
There is intellectual sloppiness at the heart of all the education manifestos.
Even the Conservatives cannot make up their minds whether they favour radical structural reforms or the rash cash promise they used to deride in their opponents. The result is that teachers do not know whether the first Scottish government, professing commitment to educational improvement, will be friendly to them.