Of poise and pedagogy

11th April 1997 at 01:00
Perhaps teachers should not be so hard on poor John Major. Troubled by sleaze and 20 points behind in the opinion polls, he has fallen very low in the public esteem and, perhaps, his morale is suffering.

And it seems that the resemblance between the Prime Minister and the teaching profession does not end there. For, as he takes to his trusty soapbox, press pundits have been examining his pedagogic skills.

"What is striking about the Prime Minister, in these public confrontations, is his resemblance to a pedantic schoolmaster dealing with an unruly pupil, " writes Joan Smith in the Independent on Sunday.

While Mr Major practises whole-class teaching, Tony Blair is trying hard to stop smiling.

"In prepared speeches, Blair shows that his style is all about looking statesmanlike," claims Nigel Farndale in the Sun. "As he announced that education would be the main concern of a Labour government, but that I he wasn't going to make any promises he couldn't keep, he kept his smile in check."

Apparently, research has found the Blair smile turns voters off.

Andrew Rawnsley offers a quiz in the Observer. Which is Labour and which is Tory? "A: The majority of teachers are skilful and dedicated, but some fall short. There will be speedy, but fair, procedures to remove teachers who cannot do the job. B: We will establish a more rigorous and effective system of appraising teachers. This will identify which teachers need more help and, where necessary, which teachers need to be replaced."

(A is Labour, B is Tory).

The Sun is convinced Mr Blair can handle the "rabid militants" of the National Union of Teachers. "They will find him 'implacably tough,' (Blair) warns. We know he will show the teachers exactly what he is made of. And he must not weaken if the other big guns of the union movement line up against him. "

The Sunday Telegraph remains an unreconstructed sceptic, insisting Labour's policies are distinguishable from those of the NUT in 1992. "This was an unsustainable position not only for electoral reasons, but also because Labour's modernisers wanted to take advantage of Tory education reforms, " it claims.

Mr Blair, in case you had forgotten, has sent both his sons to the grant-maintained London Oratory, and Harriet Harman has sent her son to a grammar school.

Moreover, the Daily Mail reckons Labour's pledge to raise the proportion of national income spent on education over five years is "mostly hope and ambition".

By contrast, the Guardian damns the Tory manifesto: "Its answer to the deterioration of education security and the re-emergence of a two-nation school system is to change the system once more and encourage further division. "

But Peter Riddell in The Times believes the "candour" of the Liberal Democrats is "refreshing".

"Where 'new' Labour is afraid to tread, Paddy Ashdown delights in leaping. He is not afraid to talk about the need to raise taxes to pay for smaller classes, new books and equipment for schools, nursery education for three and four-year-olds, and reduced health service waiting lists and more doctors and nurses."

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