Lib-Dem policies most in tune with teachers' aims

19th September 2008 at 01:00
Survey shows folly of ignoring their views as nine out of 10 members of the profession say a party's education policies sway way they will vote

Politicians who think it is safe to ignore the views of teachers when it comes to policy-making should think again, the findings of a TES poll suggests.

The survey of 5,832 teachers - carried out to coincide with this year's conference season - involved a "blind taste" test of the three main parties' education policies which indicates that the Liberal Democrats are most in tune with the profession's thinking. The Conservatives came next, with the Government trailing a long way behind.

Does that matter? The results suggest the answer is yes.

It is not just that with more than half a million members, the teaching profession is one of the biggest occupational groups in England; the survey found that more than nine out of 10 teachers say a party's education policy makes a difference to whether they will vote for them.

In fact, more than half - 54 per cent - said it would make a "lot of difference".

The TES selected five of each of the parties' most publicised policies and threw in some other non-party suggestions to discover what teachers really believe in.

The most popular of the parties' policies was, unsurprisingly, the Conservative pledge to give full anonymity to any teacher facing allegations until the case is settled.

This was backed by 98 per cent of teachers, with more than three quarters saying they "strongly" supported it.

On balance, the Tories' plan to compel local authorities to look at dividing large failing schools into smaller units on the site was also supported. But opinion was much more divided with 29 per cent saying they opposed it.

The three other Conservative policies selected - Ofsted assessing every teacher without warning; compelling schools to set all academic subjects by ability; and building a new of wave of hundreds of smaller academies - all got the thumbs down.

The second and third most popular party policies - to scrap national tests for 14-year-olds and to bring in a `pupil premium' to significantly boost school funding for disadvantaged pupils - both come from the Liberal Democrats.

The latter policy is an example of the increasing overlap on education, with the Conservatives also proposing a similar scheme.

But unlike the Lib-Dems they have not costed it, said how much they would spend or where the money would come from; so it seems fair to attribute it to the smaller party. Teachers also supported the Lib-Dems' plans to create an independent Educational Standards Authority and to abolish F and G GCSE grades.

Recently all three parties may have converged on the idea that increasing choice and diversity in the state schools system is the way to raise standards - but our survey found teachers disagreed.

For example, the only Lib-Dem policy they objected to was that of allowing parents, charities and private companies to set up state funded `free schools'. And Labour ministers' plan to allow academies to take over the running of multiple feeder primaries received even shorter shrift, opposed by more than 70 per cent of teachers.

Many teachers called for a complete end to the academy programme. Jason Sharp, who teaches at a Greater Manchester secondary and said: "It is expensive, has no proof of success over and above state schools that receive similar financial incentives."

But the most unpopular idea of all was the measure that free market enthusiasts believe is essential for any Government wanting to create diversity in state schools - allowing companies to run them for profit.

No party has yet dared to go this far, and the survey suggests that this may be a sensible strategy; more than 77 per cent of teachers oppose the idea. Teachers also came out against ministers' proposed "when ready" progress tests

Labour's National Challenge school improvement scheme is the most unpopular party policy, opposed by nearly three quarters of teachers.

The Brown government's one positive hit in the survey is their decision to introduce academic 14-19 diplomas as an alternative to A-levels - backed by 47 per cent of teachers and opposed by 32 per cent.

But the survey shows a bolder decision to adopt the Tomlinson report's recommendation of a single over-arching diploma taking A-levels, GCSEs and 14-19 diplomas; would have done better, garnering the support of 61 per cent.

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