Just what can the vote change for us?

10th January 1997 at 00:00
Forget principles. Forget all the speeches from the Majors, the Ashdowns and Blairs. Forget the spin doctors, the negative advertising and boring political broadcasts. Forget even the leader writers of the Sun and Daily Mail. The outcome of the next election will be determined by focus groups.

So a growing army of political scientists and market researchers would have us believe. They have seen the future and it is a small group of men and women who, for a small fee, are prepared to open up their hearts to complete strangers on the big issues of the day.

Crucially, politicians share the belief that focus groups, selected to represent a cross-section of opinion or a target group, have a role to play in the search for votes. The main parties are using them to discover what ordinary people are thinking.

The TES, conscious that the teaching profession's own "real voice" has often gone unheard during a decade of unprecedented upheaval in education, decided to do some research of its own. We employed RSL, a respected international opinion research company, to do in-depth interviews with six groups of classroom teachers in different areas of England and Scotland.

What we found makes depressing reading. Teachers have never felt so bad about their jobs and working conditions. Most have little optimism for the future, whoever wins the election. The news for the main political parties is not much better, with only the Liberal Democrats rousing much enthusiasm.

We set out the findings here while, on page 10, we outline what our discussion groups believe is needed to put the "feel-good" factor back into schools. Their manifesto is simple. Some will say it's too expensive, others that it does not go far enough. But it is the start of a debate The TES will widen, through its news, comment and letters. The election debate begins here.

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