Editorial - Doom-mongers dance to the tune of discontent, but they're out of step with the public

9th September 2011 at 01:00

Many of you are not going to like the following assertion: the Government's education policies are by some margin the most popular part of its programme. Admittedly, higher education is a disaster zone and other areas under its stewardship are hardly providing stiff competition. But when it comes to schools, its mantra of higher standards, more discipline and increased choice plays incredibly well with the electorate.

This may come as a surprise to those of you dusting down placards ready for an autumn of protest, but it would be a mistake to suppose that your annoyance is widely shared. That isn't to say that the Government is popular. It isn't. But do not be deceived by union nabobs bellowing doom and defiance. That is their job. And anyway, like all true believers, they tend talk to their own and don't get out much. The anger driving many teachers to compose unflattering chants that rhyme with Gove isn't animating anybody else to do the same.

Take three issues that have exercised teachers lately: the EBac, free schools and the state of the profession generally. The EBac has caused consternation among teachers who feel it is unnecessarily prescriptive. Those fears could turn out to be justified. But in the meantime, are parents more likely to welcome the prospect of a broad curriculum that emphasises traditional subjects, or to be upset that their children no longer do double RE and extended citizenship?

Then there are free schools. Teachers tend to see unwanted competition; the public sees additional institutions responsive to their needs. Particularly preposterous were claims last week that free schools were nothing more than elite enclaves for the privileged few as TV cameras panned to gaggles of excited children of all colours and backgrounds while Tiffany's mum told reporters that she especially liked the extended opening hours because they allowed her to dispense with childcare while she was at work.

As to the state of the profession, teachers see budgets axed, pensions cut, pay frozen and job prospects diminished. The view from the other end of the telescope is different. Everyone is affected by cuts, teachers' pensions and pay seem relatively generous and their jobs comparatively secure. Moreover, the quality of teachers has never been greater, sympathy for the challenges they face never deeper and their stock with the public never higher. In the popularity stakes, teachers still lag doctors and firemen, but they have edged past Ant and Dec and left everyone else trailing. It may be heresy to say so, but has there been a better time to be a teacher?

This is not to say that the electorate's expectations will be met. But the Government's direction of travel is popular. And a profession out of step with the public it serves will not find itself in a good place. gerard.kelly@tsleducation.com.


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