Tory support leaks away, poll reveals

11th April 1997 at 01:00
Labour has broken through the last bastions of Tory support among further education lecturers and support staff, a survey by The TES of voting intentions has revealed.

Almost eight out of 10 staff (76 per cent) who expressed a clear intention plan to vote Labour. The Liberal Democrats are set to take around 15 per cent and the Conservatives 9 per cent.

There is a possible sting in the tail for Labour as 16 per cent said they were undecided voters. Virtually all were formerly Tory or Labour voters now toying with a shift to the Liberal Democrats.

The mood of the 250 academic and support staff questioned in a telephone survey and straw poll of staffrooms was summed up by one media studies lecturer: "The vote for Labour reflects a mood of scepticism rather than expectation."

They were questioned in two stages - before Easter when the general election was called, and on their return from holidays this week. There appears to be little change of heart in the first three weeks of campaigning.

Business studies lecturers who in previous elections were solid blue expressed overwhelming support for Tony Blair and said they distrusted Tory plans for the economy.

Similarly, catering staff and hairdressers who have in the past been supportive of Tory policies were overwhelmingly in favour of Labour. While the specific survey questions were restricted to voting intentions, interviewees were asked for general comments.

Increased workloads and a failure to keep the pay of lecturers and other staff in line with that of school staff were commonly cited as causes of discontent with Tory policy. But the biggest outcry was over a big growth in bureaucracy at the expense of teaching and the apparent loss of professional control.

Research from London University Institute of Education underlines many of the misgivings (see page 30) particularly among lecturers and technical support staff.

It suggests that efforts to cut drop-out rates and improve performance are being hampered by excessive demands for data on students which absorb many hours while being of dubious value.

Ken Spours, the researcher in charge, said the demands were counterproductive sources of disagreement and suspicion. "Even in colleges with reputedly good management information systems, staff are reluctant to accept the accuracy of centrally-generated data. Lecturer cynicism is exacerbated by the bureaucratic demands made on them."

The TES survey showed considerable discontent with current FE policy among support staff who had been expected to take over lecturers' duties as the patterns of teaching changed and demands for student support services increased.

A typical response was: "If I could sum up what the Tory philosophy is all about, it is about getting more for less."

But there is also considerable anecdotal evidence that the Tories have thrown away a potential success story by failing to fund FE reforms properly. The slashing of the Pounds 100 million cash for growth and failure to offer even a crumb of extra support has left the sector with even deeper cynicism as the election looms.

Further analysis next week

TES telephone survey of voting intentions Voting intention N LESS THAN of replies % (decided) % (All) Labour (161) 76 64 Lib-Dem (32) 15 13 Conservative (18) 9 7 Undecided (39) - 16

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