Stop management by humiliation
The TES asked teachers' union leaders to give their verdicts on the first six months of the Labour Government.
Government statements and actions, together with a willingness to amend proposals in the light of consultation, determine its relationship with teachers. "Significantly improved but far from perfect" is a fair summary.
There is now a greater willingness to invite teacher representatives for consultation. Ministers and civil servants are more accessible than under previous administrations. However, for the unions the big breakthrough came after the successful boycott of the excessive workload connected with national curriculum testing and assessment in 1993. Conservative education secretaries recognised that it was sensible to consult with us.
The new Labour Government has built upon this and improved the consultative arrangements. The quality of the relationship depends upon the ability to reach mutually acceptable outcomes. Consultation is one thing, agreement another.
There have been some much-needed developments. The abolition of the assisted places scheme to finance a reduction in class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds; the ending of nursery vouchers; the additional revenue and capital funding were all welcome, although the education service is still woefully under-resourced. The commitment to spend a higher percentage of the GNP on education could prove crucial.
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers particularly appreciated the establishment of the working group on bureaucracy. It has worked well, but agreeing measures which will directly help the teacher is going to be difficult. While reducing bureaucracy on the one hand, the Government continues to pour out a flood of new initiatives, such as target setting, which threaten to overwhelm teachers.
The greatest angst felt by teachers is the decision to leave so many Thatcherite reforms in place. Having been so vitriolic in Opposition, politicians strain their credibility and teachers' loyalty in expecting us to forget everything they said and "modernise" or "get real".
The profession resents so much prescription. Government claims to be offering independence and professionalism through a General Teaching Council sit ill with diktats on teaching methods, homework and literacy hours.
The profession is also sick of the way in which the Government harps on about incompetent teachers. No other ministers publicly criticise their own workforce.
The naming and shaming of the "failing" schools was bitterly resented by most teachers, none more so than by those who worked in them. They were already doing most of the things being demanded of them and working extremely hard against all the odds. The Government is quick to lecture on professionalism. Yet, despite a hierarchical salary structure and the existence of hordes of headteachers, governors and local education authorities, there is insufficient professional management of the system. Instead, it degenerates into management by public humiliation.
On the issue of pay it seems that new Labour is the same as old Tory.
Will the concerns of the teacher in the classroom really be heeded by the new Government? Polling, conducted for NASUWT, shows that workload, public criticism, inadequate resourcing, relentless reforms, class size, indiscipline, the Office for Standards in Education and pay constitute teachers' chief grievances. The Government's main ambition is to raise achievement levels; these will only be raised if teachers' problems are solved.
Make teaching attractive to high-calibre people. Ensure that heads and LEAs manage competently. That is the recipe for higher standards and dispensing with the mountain of legislation, over-prescription and bureaucracy which have corroded the relationship between Government and teachers.
Teachers remain wary of David Blunkett's insinuation that anyone who criticises the Government's approach is guilty of cynicism or negativism. NASUWT will not wear that one! We will continue to judge issues on their merits.
One day the teacher from the classroom rather than the non-practising "expert" may be in the majority of those who populate task forces, working groups and education summits at No 10. That would signal the correct relationship between teachers and Government.