My new manifesto

12th January 2007 at 00:00
Jane Griffiths, an original Blair babe and former MP, describes her transition from the Commons to the classroom. Nick Morrison reports

I t would be glib to say that the House of Commons is good preparation for dealing with unruly adolescents. But Jane Griffiths believes that her political career has given her some advantages as a teacher. She has learned to read body language to spot when someone is lying.

The clues are, she says, the same as those in a pupil on the verge of misbehaving in the classroom.

And she has developed a thick skin. "Many people who go into teaching want to be liked by the pupils, but I don't care," she says. "I think it's wrong to want to be liked, and that is what I brought with me from politics.

"In that world, you must not be afraid to make enemies, and I have done. It doesn't kill you if people hate you in politics, and if a Year 9 group decides they hate me, I don't care at all."

Jane was one of the original "Blair babes" when she was elected to represent Reading East in the 1997 landslide, but seven years later she was deselected after falling out with local activists, leaving the Commons in 2005.

It was then she found that serving your country does not always open doors, although her experience was far from unique. Last year it emerged that Lilo Friedrich, a former German MP, had taken a job as a cleaner after she failed to find other employment on leaving the Bundestag.

Jane, now 52 and a mother of two, had almost become a teacher when she left university, before opting to work as a linguist at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) instead. Now, her thoughts of teaching have returned.

"I wanted a new career while I was still young enough to do something solid," she says. "I felt I had got to make a change and do something for me, something I had a yearning to do when I was young - and I wanted a challenge."

She applied for a PGCE and last September started training as a languages teacher at the Institute of Education, University of London. Her teaching practice last term was in a secondary school in east London, and she says her political experience has given her an advantage in maintaining order in the classroom.

"I'm used to keeping people in line," she says. "I know what people are going to do before they do it. I hope I don't have to eat my words, but so far I have been OK in classroom management."

But she admits the sudden drop in status has been hard to deal with.

"Having been quite an important person in my local community, I have had to speak to myself quite sternly and say: 'You are not important, you are a beginning teacher'," she says.

Jane hasn't told staffroom colleagues about her previous career, although she says she would if asked, and she bites her tongue when discussions get around to political matters. Nor is she worried about the children finding out.

She has surprised herself how little she misses the Commons and taking part in debates, but the challenges and rewards of her new career have made the transition easier.

"It has been harder than I thought, although I didn't think it would be easy," she says. "With languages, you have a real advantage for low achievers. They are all on a level playing field, and with them, you can really see their progress. You get some who do particularly well and it is such a boost to them."

Perhaps surprisingly for someone used to public speaking, and who insists she is not short of personal confidence, she also admits to nerves.

"I do feel apprehensive going into the classroom. I did every time I stood up in the Commons or had a constituency surgery, not knowing who was going to come through the door.

"But what has exceeded my expectations is the absolute joy I get from being at school. I'm going to sound silly and emotional, but when you are around adolescents, it's the way they laugh an uninhibited laugh. In politicians, you never hear uninhibited laughter - it's all political."

Teachers turned MP

In the 2005 general election 47 teachers were elected to Parliament (32 Labour, 6 Conservative and 9 Lib Dem), and 44 university and college lecturers (41 Labour, 3 Lib Dem). Teachers who have become MPs include:

Vernon Coaker - junior Home Office minister (deputy headteacher)

Don Foster - Lib Dem culture spokesman (science teacher)

Phil Hope - skills minister (teacher)

Fiona McTaggart - former Home Office minister (primary teacher)

Elliot Morley - former environment minister (head of special needs)

Estelle Morris - former Education Secretary, now Baroness Morris (teacher)

Bridget Prentice - junior minister in the Department for Constitutional Affairs (head of careers)

Jacqui Smith - Government Chief Whip (head of economics)

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