How parties can win the school vote

8th April 2005 at 01:00
Less meddling by central government and more resources top your wish list for the coming election. Joseph Lee on the launch of the TES readers' manifesto

Teachers demand more freedom, resources and respect in the first Readers'

Manifesto compiled by The TES.

More than 1,300 teachers all over the country responded to our plea for their three wishes: for pupils; for schools or colleges; and for themselves.

As the election was called, these were compiled into a dream manifesto for teachers. Examples of your wishes will be sent to the three major parties to see how they respond to your demands.

And after the election, The TES will press the next education secretary to address your concerns and will monitor how successful the Government has been in achieving your priorities.

Wishes for pupils show teachers feel overburdened with tests that prevent students getting a broad education. Theresa van Straten, from Beal high, Redbridge, east London said: "Less examination, examination, examination and more education, education, education." Others wanted to scrap exam league tables, which many teachers said made everyone in schools "slaves" to targets. They wanted to see teachers in control of the curriculum and more room for creativity, including the opportunity to take children on school trips without fear of being sued.

For some, the necessary changes could be summed up in four words:

"Implement the Tomlinson report," as Matthew Topping, from Edge Hill school, Lancashire, put for all three wishes.

Despite Labour having put an extra pound;1,000 per pupil into the system, the wishlist was dominated by pleas for more funds. Teachers complained of "Dickensian" overcrowded classrooms and a lack of basic resources.

Hannah Sharman, who teaches at Riverside primary, Leicestershire, said many books at school had half the pages missing and had been there since she was a five-year-old.

High-tech equipment was in demand, as teachers demanded reliable computers for pupils, laptops and interactive whiteboards to improve their lessons.

Jamie Oliver's campaign on school dinners has clearly made as big an impression on teachers as it has on the Government: many wished their schools could afford to feed pupils better to improve concentration and behaviour.

Eliminating bad behaviour was seen as a key way to improve teachers' lives.

It was rivalled only by issues around work-life balance: excessive paperwork, initiative overload and political interference. The changes to pensions were attacked as "robbery". Many staff also wanted more pay, reflecting the status they feel the job should have. "An entry in the Guinness book of records for receiving the largest wage rise ever," wished one teacher.

But the complaints were balanced by positive hopes that pupils and staff should be happy and fulfilled.

The manifesto also uncovered huge support for the threatened Reading Recovery programme. More than 100 primary teachers wrote to say their greatest wish would be to continue the programme, which offers 20 weeks of intensive literacy support at a cost of pound;1,000 per child. The number of reading recovery teachers has fallen 40 per cent in the past six years.

Advocates say the programme is good value for money. Sandra Stevely, from Breckon Hill primary, Middlesbrough, said: "If we lose pupils early on, the cost is more than just money."

Our competition winner was new teacher Rosie Ridgway from Whitworth special school in Durham. She wished happiness for her pupils and wished her school success in its reorganisation - even though it meant making her redundant.

"For kids in special schools, it can be a trial. Sometimes they have to be excluded to get there. Some parents fight to get them there, some parents don't want them to be in special schools. We are their last port of call," she said.

But some staff were more embittered. One sent in an entry, under a pseudonym for obvious reasons, which wished for pupils, his school and himself respectively: "Death, fire and retirement."

FE FOCUS 3

* joseph.lee@tes.co.uk

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