Ed Miliband has promised a "new beginning" for teachers and pledged to end what he called the government's "war" on the profession should his party win May's general election.
In an exclusive interview with TES, the Labour leader said he would re-establish trust between the government and teachers by listening to concerns about Ofsted, workload and the curriculum. Schools should "liberate" young people and offer a wide range of creative subjects, which have been "denigrated" under the coalition, he said.
In his first major interview on education since becoming Labour leader in 2010, Mr Miliband said he would take teachers' concerns about the variable quality of inspection to Ofsted, but he insisted that the watchdog was "fundamental to a good school system". In comments that are likely to prove contentious, he also said that a Labour government would claw back "excessive" cash reserves held by academies in order to reinvest the money in the classroom.
But it was the government's relationship with the profession that required the closest attention, Mr Miliband said. "We're offering a new beginning," he claimed. "I'm not saying every Labour minister [under the last administration] was universally loved by every stakeholder, but the hatred for [Michael] Gove.You cannot meet a teacher without them saying, `That man!'
"He has managed to instil a sense of hatred among the profession, which is truly a remarkable achievement. So I think partly we are saying to teachers there will be a new start.
"Respect is the foundation," he added. "A war on teachers, which is what Gove and Gove-in-all-but-name mean, is totally disastrous."
The Labour offering would include a reversal of the current government's approach to creative subjects such as the arts, drama and music, which many teachers believe have been sidelined in the curriculum. Mr Miliband said coalition ministers had forgotten that "education is for life", adding: "What they have done to creative subjects is terrible, I mean really terrible. It's a denigration of creative subjects, the arts subjects and so on.This point about school being about an education for life is fundamental.
"As prime minister, I will be really deeply engaged in education. I'm a parent, I care a lot about it - it's such a source of liberation for people. And I'll engage with the profession."
The Labour leader pointed to the fact that almost 50,000 teachers had left the workforce in the past year as an indictment of the government's track record on schools.
A major factor behind the exodus was teachers' overwhelming workload, Mr Miliband added, which had been created by the coalition's reforms. Ministers, he said, had adopted an approach of "creative destruction" to education policy, with "no notice, no consultation, no dialogue, throwing everything up in the air and seeing where it lands".
With just 75 days until the general election, other party leaders have also set out their stalls on education. A poll by The Guardian and ICM revealed on Monday that education is the fourth most important issue for the public, behind the NHS, the economy and immigration.
Earlier this month, prime minister David Cameron promised a "war on mediocrity", announcing that any school rated "requires improvement" by Ofsted could be turned into an academy or undergo a forced change in leadership. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has also spoken out on education, pledging to protect funding for 3-19 learners in real terms.
The government also launched the Workload Challenge in an attempt to cut working hours and win back support.
Last week, Mr Miliband made his biggest education speech to date, pledging to protect the education budget in real terms and limit infant class sizes. He also issued a "call to arms" asking the thousands of teachers who have left the job to return.
Speaking to TES, he promised to examine the interaction between schools and Ofsted. "We will engage with Ofsted on this [issue of the quality of inspection] and the relationship with the profession," he said. "I think I understand the feeling of teachers on this. Inspectorates are never going to be wildly popular, I'm sure there's always better dialogue that can happen, but I think it [Ofsted] is really important - the nature of having an inspectorate is really fundamental to a good school system."
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, welcomed Mr Miliband's conciliatory approach, but said the close links between the Labour Party and the teaching profession via trade unions created problems.
"They have to walk that difficult line between saying what the profession wants to hear and saying what the public wants to hear," he said. "A lot of teachers are looking for a white knight. [Labour's] Tristram Hunt can't be that and be a credible secretary of state."
What Labour has pledged on education
- Protect overall education spending "in real terms".
- Cap infant class sizes at 30.
- Start a "standards challenge", based on the London Challenge, in every region.
- Appoint directors of school standards to oversee local accountability.
- Give all schools the freedoms enjoyed by academies and free schools.
- Ensure every teacher has or is working towards qualified teacher status.
- Ensure character education is taught in all schools.
- Recouple AS- and A-levels.
- End the free-school programme and introduce parent-led academies.
- Guarantee an apprenticeship for every school leaver.
- Introduce a Technical Baccalaureate.
- Ensure all young people study English and maths to the age of 18.