David Reynolds, professor of education at Exeter University, chair of the numeracy strategy working group and Depart-ment for Education and Employment adviser: "I would like the next government to move beyond our unhealthy national obsession with headteachers and focus instead on middle manage-ment. Most heads are now as good as they're going to get, whereas middle management is usually inadequate. Making it better frees heads to be strategic. It also creates an engine for school improvement that's much more powerful than one man or woman in the head's study."
Tim Emmett, development director, CfBT, a non-profit-making company selling education services: "We're really pleased with what the (last) government has done in terms of opening up the market for new players. We'd like to see deregulation of salaries, amid general deregulation. Teacher recruitment and retention is a key issue. We're already seeing an open market developing for teachers and that should be encouraged. Private-sector companies involved in schools should be able to employ staff, which presently they can't."
Lord Puttnam, chairman of the General Teaching Council: "This is an absolutely make-or-break five years for state education. Unless we can make an overwhelming case for it, we will begin to drift down a vouchers route and the whole thing will fragment. I'd like a completely new climate of trust. Teachers should be invited to develop policy and be trusted to deliver it. We've got to build non-contact time into our teaching week and that means a more imaginative use of time and para-professionals."
Peter Wilby, New Statesman editor and TES columnist: "A good education minister would issue no new directives, lanch no initiatives, set up no task forces and certainly not even think of new tests or examinations. Then everybody could get on with teaching. The new minister, therefore, should preferably suffer from severe narcolepsy."
Jo Cave, PGCE music student, Institute of Education: "The starting salary has increased under Labour, but we know that once we take up our positions the chance to receive big rises is limited. The pound;6,000 training bursary doesn't even come close to covering my accom-modation costs. As London is one of the areas facing sizeable staff shortages we should be given an additional London weighting."
Chris Gill, drama and theatre studies teacher, Wycombe high school, High Wycombe, Buck-inghamshire:"The future of our country depends on professional teachers being valued, particularly if we are to attract recruits of the right calibre and those who have a burning passion to teach. The Government has the power to improve the quality of teaching instead of constantly lashing teachers. What ministers need to recognise is that what we do is extremely important and they should publicly say so to change the public perception."
Rick Sheehan, a Year 6 teacher, Westfield county primary, Cottingham, Hull:
"I would like to see primary league tables abolished because they are divisive and distort the curriculum. I keep hearing about class sizes being cut, but I am going to have 35 mixed Year 5 and 6 next year. Each additional child over 25 makes an increasing difference to the efficiency I can provide - you can't just cover it by working harder. Primary schools should be funded as well as secondaries."
Interviews by Nic Barnard, Susanna Twidale, Maureen McTaggart