As good as the promises got

1st June 2001 at 01:00
"We have made it our guiding rule not to promise what we cannot deliver," wrote Tony Blair in Labour's 1997 manifesto. In education he has, for the most part, been as good as his word. As we report in Briefing (page 22) Labour has acted on every one of 21 promises made at the last election. The big pledges - more money, smaller infant classes and targets for 11-year-olds - have all been met, or will be soon.

Those promises were designed to manage expectations, raising those that were too low - and suppressing hopes that were too extravagant. But Labour's achievements should not be underestimated. It is easy to forget that in 1997 there was widespread scepticism that these goals could be reached. But the inability of Messrs Blair and Blunkett to take teachers with them now threatens to undermine what they have achieved.

Despite being warned of impending teacher shortages almost as soon as they took office, ministers were too slow to act and all too quick to follow the mistakes of their Conservative predecessors and dismiss professional concerns as whingeing. Many teachers who support Labour's aims have been alienated by the speed at which oe initiative has followed another, increasing already heavy workloads. It is a similar story in further education where welcome reforms have been overshadowed by a lecturers strike over pay and conditions.

For those teachers like Anthony Handley (page 6) who refuse to vote for a party with this approach, the obvious choice next week is to vote Liberal Democrat. Many of their policies such as relaxing the national curriculum, scrapping national targets and reforming OFSTED will appeal to traditional Labour voters By contrast, the Tories' education policies will do little to attract most teachers. Too many still remember them as the party that brought crumbling buildings, ordeal by inspection and league tables. A "free schools" policy which would place yet more burdens on schools is unlikely to win them many new friends.

Whoever teachers choose, the polls suggest that it will be Tony Blair who returns to Downing Street next week. His party probably deserves a chance to build on their record so far. But if Labour in a second term is to continue the educational successes of the first, ministers will need to listen more to teachers.


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