Making your mind up: it's your call, not ours

30th April 2010 at 01:00
We've given you all the information you need; now the profession must cast its vote

Eighteen years ago The Sun used a psychic to ask the ghost of Stalin which party he was backing in the British general election. The Tory-supporting tabloid was delighted to discover that the tyrant was backing Labour. No paper has yet gone to such surreal lengths to influence next week's vote, but most of them will seek to persuade their readers to scratch an X against the candidate of a particular party.

The TES will not be among them. This is not because we think any vote is a wasted vote. Given the state of the country's finances and voter disillusion, this election is more vital than most. Nor does our reluctance stem from frustration that education has been sidelined: in contrast to their coyness over the deficit, all the parties have been gratifyingly loud about schools. But none of their plans is totally without merit and none is flawless. So while The TES will not endorse a party, we think there are three issues teachers should consider when judging each.

The first is money, or the lack of it. Labour says it will ring-fence frontline services for a bit, while the Lib Dems and Tories promise extra amounts for disadvantaged pupils. But so enormous is the deficit that it stretches credulity to think that the education budget will not be squeezed at some point. Jobs will be axed, new buildings will be cancelled, salaries will be frozen or even cut. The question for teachers is not which party will save them from any pain - none of them will - but which do they think is most likely to prune wisely and fairly?

The second issue is trust. For the past 20 years, governments have sought to improve our schools by diktat. We have had national curricula, strategies and challenges, battalions of inspectors, endless targets, relentless tests and incessant initiatives that, however well-intentioned, implied that schools and teachers could not be trusted to do their job. Some couldn't and can't be. But to treat the entire education sector as if it were constantly in danger of backsliding onto the naughty step removes responsibility and limits potential. If politicians want an improving education system, they will have to trust teachers to teach. Which of the parties is most likely to do that? For their part, teachers should be honest: if they are given more freedom, will they know how to handle it?

The final issue is all-encompassing: what do we want education to do? We are saddled with a system built for the days when most pupils left at 16, which has never developed a coherent attitude to vocational education and which values testing above thinking. None of the parties seems to have a complete answer to those issues, but does any come close?

Those readers who have access to a medium will, of course, consult them. The rest of us will have to trust our judgment. Fortunately, teachers have good sense in abundance. Whether our political masters appreciate that is another matter.

Gerard Kelly, Editor E

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