Nationalists encouraged as voters desert Blair, reports Karen Thornton
Plaid Cymru is challenging Labour for the biggest share of teachers' votes in Wales, even though only one in 10 think it has the best education policies of the major parties.
A TES Cymru general election poll shows Labour has lost more than a third of its teacher supporters in Wales and England since the last vote in 2001.
In Wales, Labour and the Nationalists are neck and neck, with 23 per cent each of the teacher vote. In 2001, 37 per cent of those surveyed said they voted Labour. But the biggest beneficiaries of the decline in support for Welsh Labour in 2005 are the Conservatives and Lib Dems - both up two percentage points from 2001, to 12 and 11 per cent respectively. More than a fifth of teachers remain undecided about how to vote if an election was called tomorrow.
The Lib Dems also have the second most popular education policies - favoured by 17 per cent of teachers, compared to 27 per cent for Labour's, 10 per cent for Plaid Cymru and only 7 per cent for the Tories.
Peter Black, Lib Dem education spokesman in the Assembly, said: "We have been strong on the need for investment in our schools and to put education first, and teachers are beginning to recognise this."
Plaid Cymru's Janet Ryder, the Assembly's shadow education minister, said:
"These results are encouraging so close to a general election, but possibly we are not communicating our policies well. Teachers' votes are critical."
Most teachers (63 per cent in Wales) felt Prime Minister Tony Blair had not delivered on his promise to increase support for schools and teachers. But Welsh teachers are much more positive than English colleagues about how education is being run.
Nearly two in five say the Assembly is doing a good job, compared to only 28 per cent of teachers in England asked about the Westminster government.
And there is significant support for key Assembly policies that have not been adopted across the border. Nearly 80 per cent of teachers in Wales support the abolition of compulsory national tests for 11 and 14-year-olds.
Sats at key stage 2 are voluntary from this summer, and will become so at KS3 in 2006. England still has tests for seven-year-olds.
Despite union concerns that the replacement for tests - moderated teacher assessment - could prove burdensome, a staggering 91 per cent of primary teachers are in favour of this. Almost six in 10 of their secondary colleagues (59 per cent) favour teacher assessment.
Rhys Williams, political officer with the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said: "Teachers are concerned about what is the best and most reliable way of assessing children. We are encouraged by the finding that education is perceived as one of the successes of devolution and that the Assembly is doing a good job. That's been our experience as a union."
Specialist schools, now well-established in England, enjoy strong support from teachers there (70 per cent) but only 45 per cent are in favour of them in Wales, which has never adopted this New Labour policy.
But both English and Welsh teachers are opposed to the privately-sponsored and managed academies which are a key plank of the Westminster government's education strategy.
FDS International conducted telephone interviews with 200 teachers in Wales and 500 in England in January.
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