Professional action is best

12th May 1995 at 01:00
Your editorial of April 21 reviews the situation following the Easter teacher union conferences and considers how strike action may threaten the previous alliance between teachers, parents and governors. There is much for these groups to reflect on in the rhetoric and the realities of the situation in both the shorter and longer term.

First, there is a need to penetrate the rhetoric by recognising that blaming alleged union militants will not increase school budgets or prevent rising class sizes. The plain truth that we all need to hang on to is that this is really about money for state education. It is about the level of funding and resourcing and the numbers of teachers employed in state schools within the immediate budget crisis.

Professor Alan Smithers' projections (TES, April 7) indicate that the system stands to lose 14,000 teachers, no one can now deny that this means immediate rises in class sizes.

This is the fundamental disruption of children and young people's education that is the overriding concern, rather than disputations over the further relatively minor disruptions of a one-day strike or of any other actions, however difficult or inconvenient or contestable these may be. The truth which unites parental and professional concerns is that smaller classes are better. This is the important shared understanding that must not be lost and from which nothing should be allowed to distract us.

Further attempts to divert this understanding with claims that there is no research to prove smaller is better need to be countered by the fact that there is no evidence to disprove it either, as those who buy the smaller classes in private education recognise.

This raises a second longer-term concern beyond the present budget crisis. The application of political rhetoric to education has masked the under-resourcing of the state system by blaming teachers for the alleged failures of that system. The rhetoric putting teachers down was accompanied by a talking up of the purported power of parents as consumers.

What is happening now, however, is that parents are increasingly seeing through this rhetoric and understanding that it is no replacement for real resourcing of the system.

Professionals and governors at the sharp end had arrived at this position previously and this new shared understanding between the groups has allowed tentative alliances to emerge.

Professional action would now therefore be best directed at nurturing these alliances recognising that the word would be more powerful in achieving this than the various proposed withdrawals of children or labour, and that weekend rallies, for example, would work better at present than weekday ones.

A united campaign for the proper renewal and reconstruction of education as we run up to a general election could counter the continuation of under-resourcing and empty rhetoric after it. The nation as a whole must face up to the fact that if we want quality in education there is no good in throwing too few teachers at too many children, we must also invest wisely and well.

ROD MACKENZIE

Lecturer in education Rolle School of Education University of Plymouth Douglas Avenue Exmouth Devon

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